“This generation’s no good, no good at all. They don’t possess any deep emotions. They don’t know what passion is”
It’s not often that a play written in 1929 receives its world première almost 90 years later, but that is precisely what the Finborough Theatre has given us with their production of Robert Graves’ But It Still Goes On.
Sophie Ward, Victor Gardener, Alan Cox, Rachel Pickup
The “It” that “still goes on” appears to be homosexuality and there is some debate as to the autobiographical nature of Graves’ exposé of post first world war social attitudes.
The action, in part, centres around Dick Tompion who survived the trenches and is trying to come to terms with his sexuality.
Graves himself served in northern France and was hospitalised in 1916 for shell shock (what we would now call PTSD) where he met and formed a friendship with poet Siegfried Sassoon, who it is known had a number of gay lovers.
Victor Gardener, Sophie Ward
Graves’ private life aside, the play looks and feels like a Noël Coward drawing room comedy yet with a satirical, some might say quite vicious, undercurrent, perhaps more redolent of Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, where the manners and graces of the English gentry are exposed as cruel and hypocritical.
Alan Cox as Dick Tompion delivers a powerful performance, at once repressed and bombastic, while DIVA favourite Sophie Ward’s Charlotte is a tour de force – understated, restrained and self-destructive.
But It Still Goes On, like all the best drama, retains relevance even today.
The repression of homosexuality is not, sadly, part of history: it still tears families apart, it still means that gay kids are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts, and there are still marriages of convenience causing lasting distress to countless women, men and children.
All this could have been tackled in a modern-day piece with a hip-hop soundtrack and street-speak (and they often are, with varied degrees of success), and yet the inter-war setting, rather than alienating the audience, reminds us of the deep-rooted universality of the issues addressed, reinforcing the sad fact that the battles we are fighting today have been fought for generations.
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This article originally appeared on divamag.co.uk