It takes quite a lot to shake Civilian Theatre from a natural state of relative placidity. However arriving at Southwark Playhouse on a hot Friday evening, after a long day at work, to find out your 20.00 press show will run a shade under 3 hours is enough to test even this reviewer’s equanimity.
Little Malcolm… is being billed as a lost gem. Well, it was certainly lost. It was an early directing adventure for Mike Leigh that crashed and burned in London, before heading to America where it suffered a similar fate. And god only knows what Americans would made of this strange class and gender satire set around an art school in a northern working class town.
Yet it has always had its champions, and was turned into a film starring John Hurt, and produced by George Harrison, which walked off with the Silver Bear at the 1974 Berlin International Film Festival. And then nothing. Malcolm found himself lost in the mists of time until Soggy Arts and Folie a Deux Productions retrieved him and his eunuchs for a 50th anniversary staging.
It gives no pleasure to say that on the basis of this production, Little Malcolm… is less precious gem, and more curate’s egg. David Halliwell has not written a bad play, and parts of it are in fact excellent. He has a rare ear for high prose and often finds a striking harmony when balancing it against the cadences of northern speech patterns. Unfortunately in Little Malcolm… he has taken it upon himself to write three different plays when one would have sufficed. It feels like Halliwell saw this as his only chance to make his mark upon the world, and made sure he included all his ideas at once.