Frank and Percy, Theatre Royal, Bath

BEN Weatherill’s new play Frank and Percy, a two-hander for Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Allam, is at Bath until 5th August, and there’s hardly a seat to be had. Perhaps the bright “young” London critics who slated the play at its Windsor opening will attribute that to an older, more staid audience in the city of Bath – but they’d be wrong. The initial attraction is the chance to see two of our finest actors on stage together again, after their hilarious turn as Widow Twankey and Abanazar at the Old Vic in London some years ago – and of course there are those who would pay to see them reading a telephone directory (remember those?). But this play is so much more, and it is certainly a play of its time, an impossibility a decade or so ago. It’s directed by Sean Mathias, who, back at the time of Section 28, was McKellen’s partner. He was approached by the 31-year-old Weatherill, who had written the play during lock-down, inspired by people he met as he walked his dog Audrey, and Mathais immediately recognised its quality and potential. Frank is a retired teacher and widower, mourning the death of his wife and walking his food-mad dog every day. Percy is another dog walker on Hampstead Heath, but his dog is on a strict diet and his life has been very different from Frank’s. He is a professor of sociology, and in the final stages of writing his latest book, which encapsulates his thoughts on climate change and the way politicians approach the problem. And he is gay and his 30-year relationship has recently come to an end. Frank and Percy is about friendship in all its many forms. What seems like an inconsequential dog-chat turns into a life affirming companionship for two people, who happen to be older men. It’s full of hilarious anecdotes as the two get to know one another. Both are set in their ways, and the exploration of how those ways might co-exist is touching, annoying and often very funny. Last week we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It, in which all but four of the actors are over 70 years old. This week we watched Empire of Light, in which a bi-polar middle aged woman falls in love with a young black man. All of them are about the human need for love, and how you never know when or from where it might come. In these dark times, it’s a heartening message, and brilliantly delivered by the sprightly 84-year-old McKellen and the bravely shy 69-year-old Allam. They create two entirely believable men, each fully formed by long lives but nervously anxious about a new friendship that might become something more. There’s quite a bit of pop music in here, but they missed Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. The play will probably go into the West End, and there are plans to film it, too. See it in Bath if you can get a ticket. GP-W  

Posted in Reviews on .