THEY WERE an undeniably odd couple, the great British actor Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester.
Mr & Mrs Laughton | Rating: *** | Oran Mor, Glasgow
He was the unhandsome yet brilliant and charismatic star both of the London stage, and of many great films of the mid 20th century; she was a dancer turned superbly strange actress, still probably best known as the Bride Of Frankenstein in James Whale’s famous 1935 film. And he was a closet homosexual, uninterested in a sexual relationship with Elsa; yet they loved one another, made a home together, and worked together for 33 years, from their marriage in 1929 to Laughton’s death in 1962.
Michael-Alan Read’s new Play, Pie And Pint play Mr. & Mrs Laughton - co-produced wth Sherman Cymru in Cardiff - is a tiny cameo drama, barely 40 minutes long, which cuts to the heart of this strange, enduring relationship in what’s essentially a monologue by Abigail McGibbon’s Elsa, illustrated by dialogue scenes in which Steven McNicoll appears as Laughton. The play is mainly set around the time of Laughton’s last stage appearance, as King Lear at Stratford in 1959; and McNicoll captures Laughton’s mood-swings between cruel arrogance and crushing self-disgust to perfection, rolling out Shakespeare’s words as he and Elsa work on them, and sliding effortlessly back into earlier episodes in the couple’s life together.
It’s McGibbon’s beautiful and touching performance as the witty and devoted Elsa, though, that really holds this brief play together; and although it feels like a tantalising fragment of a piece, about two extraordinary people living creatively in a hopelessly homophobic world, it still burns very brightly on the Oran Mor stage, and leaves the audience hungry for more.
• Until 5 March