Winston Churchill famously described the British Royal Navy as having been sustained by three things, namely, “rum, sodomy and the lash.” It is to just such a sexually dissolute and violent maritime society that we are taken by Liam Rudden’s Thief.
A one-man play “inspired by” the writings of the great French writer Jean Genet, it invites us into the always dangerous underworld of ‘Sailor’, a rent boy for whom homosexuality is not so much a sexual orientation as a matter of commercial necessity. The son of a prostitute and a faceless client, he seemed predestined to a life on the high seas, living from the selling of his body and, more importantly, the opportunities for larceny which his sexual transactions afford.
Lacing his tales of recent exploits (a ring stolen from a high-ranking naval officer, a narrow escape from an insanely violent sex slaver) with key points from his biography, Matt Robertson’s Sailor walks the blurred lines between pain and desire, excitement and death.
As ever with adaptations of prose fictions into solo plays, Thief sets out justify itself as live drama. In Edinburgh Fringe terms, Guy Masterson’s performances of George Orwell’s Animal Farm is the gold standard.
Sadly, despite the fact that he absolutely looks the part of the experienced pretty boy prostitute, Robertson lacks the necessary emotional and psychological range. His performance is too heavy on his character’s vulnerability and pain, and too light on his sexual masochism and ruthlessness.
Nevertheless, this is, in many respects, a very reasonable 50 minutes of theatre. The text itself is compelling, leaving vivid images imprinted on one’s mind. It’s just a pity that, given the subject matter, Robertson gives such a curiously clean performance.
Hill Street Solo Theatre, 0131 226 6522, until 24 Aug (not12), £10 (£8)
A slightly abridged version of this review was originally published in The List magazine on August 7, 2014
© Mark Brown