Heathcote Williams’s The Local Stigmatic has seen little limelight since its original 1966 run, making waves at both the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and the Royal Court. Ignoring the cult success of the Al Pacino led film in 1990, it is strange to see such a performance neglected, particularly with its intensely relevant subject matter and content. This is a script conceptually dedicated to class commentary and a rejection of celebrity culture – a treatise on the nature of idolatry and a social dysfunction that seems to permeate from Williams’s London.
The premise is easy enough – two ‘sociopaths’ (a loose description, it must be admitted) stumble through a haze-filled London, obsessing over dog racing, actor recognition and magazine cuttings. In the sullen, dark confines of the Old Red Lion, the pair (Ray and Graham) lead a near-purgatorial existence – exiting then re-emerging from their cutting-filled home to dimly lit bars with worn chairs and dusty tables (constructed with precision by an adept lighting designer in Tom Kitney), haunted by unhelpful cab drivers and elusive blind men. It’s a familiar concept, pitching itself somewhere between Graham Greene and Anthony Burgess yet never feeling overly reliant on either of these sources.
Michael Toumey has done a fantastic job in embellishing Williams’s text – smothering it in noire yet still giving the language room to breathe. His directorial hand is felt throughout – every movement between the trio of performers feels entirely coordinated and rehearsed with little room for improvisation, a vital ingredient when dealing with ‘sociopathic’ characters that could, without significant control, become entirely two dimensional. Touches in the design were also resoundingly pertinent, particularly the inclusion of a Beatles poster – William’s text, coming in 1966, was almost a decade and half before John Lennon’s murder in circumstances that seem almost hauntingly similar to the events of the play.
The text itself felt elusive, and one that sometimes held back a lot more than it gave. None of this was the fault of the talent – Wilson James and William Frazer constructing wholly nuanced forms of ‘sociopath’ that made for a fantastic two-hander. James’s wide eyed frenzy may have felt slightly too caricatured at times, but Frazer’s stoic quietness and strange humours more than made the two a consistently watchable duo. Tom Sawyer too displayed a sympathetic role as the actor David, and his treatment was a stirring continuity as the play progressed.
The Local Stigmatic packs a number of themes into its hour long run, and it took a large retrospective chewing spell to get to grips with a number of its themes. Latent references to homosexuality ran throughout, as did a comatose notion of class. Toumey did well in only providing the subtlest of hints where necessary, but the end product was, in its overall form, a tantalising piece of theatre. Since revivals of such a performance are so rare, it seems as though Stigmatic is one to catch before it’s gone.
The Local Stigmatic runs until the 28th May.