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Review: Harvey Fierstein's On Tidy Endings and Safe Sex at the Tristan Bates

On Tidy Endings and Safe Sex 7, Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith,
Deena Payne and CJ de Mooi in On Tidy Endings at Tristan Bates Theatre. Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith

The Tristan Bates Theatre is hosting the UK premieres of two Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy) plays themed around gay relationships during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

First up is Safe Sex which explores the impact fear of the disease has on one relationship. Ghee (CJ de Mooi) and Mead (Cole Michaels) have got together again after splitting up and there is a potent mix of rediscovered passion for each other and the ghosts of past grievances. Ghee is ultra cautious about sexual activity and the Aids risk which serves as a dampener for Meads passion and soon frustrations spill over into a truth-telling about each others feelings.

Like the companion piece On Tidy Endings, AIDS is very much a back drop, a spectre that subtly informs behaviour but in concentrating on the relationship the short comings in the performance are revealed. There is little chemistry between the lovers and without that the play just lacks heart and the message seems a bit empty.

On Tidy Endings is a stronger piece. This time CJ de Mooi plays Arthur who is newly bereaved having lost his partner Collin to AIDS. Collin's former wife Marion (Deena Payne) visits Arthur with hers and Collins son Jim (Daniel Purves in this performance) to help tie up some lose ends.

At its heart is a fascinating love triangle and the question of who has the biggest claim on Collin's life and possessions. Marion despite having remarried still held a torch for her first love Collin with whom she was with for 16 years. Arthur's time with him was shorter but significant in that he nursed him all through his illness.

Deena Payne is particularly captivating as the wife who, while accepting her husband homosexuality can't quite let go and remains acutely aware that she is jealous of the relationship he had with Arthur.

Daniel Purves steals his brief scenes as the kid who is coping with his unconventional family,  probably much better than the adults give him credit for.

Both pieces have some nice one liners and there was at least one scene that did have me welling up but neither quite stand up to Fierstein's other work such as The Torch Song Trilogy.

Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings is booking until May 17 and runs at 1 hours 40 minute including an interval.