Review: Laughton: Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Vincent Franklin as Charles Laughton
Vincent Franklin as Charles Laughton

At last – a play about Charles Laughton – one of Scarborough’s most famous sons presented in his home town.

Laughton was a master of his craft and it would only be fitting if the play about him was good.

Fortunately, Roger Osborne’s play is fantastic. It captures Laughton warts and all – his passions, his viciousness, his love of beauty and beautiful things, his selfisness, his doubts, his sexuality, faith, his ambitions and achievements. It is a portrait of a complex and sensitive soul.

The two-act play deals with the biggies – life and death. In the first half Laughton, preparing to play Galileo in a play by Brecht – asks, in a nutshell, ‘What’s it all about?’

The curtain rises on the second half on the North York Moors with Laugthon, who is dying, rehearsing for King Lear – and contemplating death.

The script is stunningly brought to life by Vincent Franklin as Laughton and Kacey Ainsworth as his wife Elsa Lanchester.

Their exchanges in the first half are vicious – like two alley cats scratching the life out of each other. This contrasts with the tenderness of the second act – which, though about death, is the lighter of the two parts.

Tour de force or powerhouse are over used words to describe performances – here they barely touch on how good Franklin is. He is not only Laughton but Laughton playing Lear and Galileo – snatches of Bligh and Quasimodo – and doing impressions of Olivier and Noel Coward. He is quite simply, brilliant, a mastercraftsman playing a mastercraftsman.

Ainsworth as the free-spirited Lanchester, is, as the real Lanchester was to Laughton, every bit his match. They were by turns sparing partners, friends, lovers – and at all times compelling.

Laughton runs at the Stepehen Joseph Theatre until Saturday October 26