46 Beacon review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘a heartfelt memory play’
Sultry, sweet, and suffused with wry humour, 46 Beacon is a heartfelt memory play revolving around a sexual encounter between inexperienced teenager Alan, and older, worldly Robert.
First seen at the Hope Theatre in 2015, Bill Rosenfield’s semi-autobiographical character piece is given a huge lift here by the tremendous warmth and chemistry of its two leads.
Jay Taylor channels the plummy diction and coquettish smile of Tom Hiddleston as refined English actor Robert. A model of softly-spoken self-assurance, his poise conceals neither his aching isolation, nor his gentleness. Despite his evident desire, he frequently pauses mid-seduction to calm and reassure his lover.
Oliver Coopersmith meanwhile skilfully conveys a recognisable jumble of conflicting emotions, simultaneously anxious, aroused, and desperate for acceptance.
Director Alexander Lass fills the play with meaningful silences, pointing up the subtle body language and increasingly intimate gestures. However, despite a beautifully paced opening crackling with sexual tension, the show eventually begins to flag, with the well-observed characters becoming progressively more introspective, and proportionately less interesting. A short, strangely conversational epilogue feels tacked on, despite its affectionate sentiment.
Ruth Hall’s neat, uncluttered design situates the action in the 1970s. Period appropriate details decorate her set, from the glossy wood veneer of the furniture to the textured teal wallpaper. Robert spends much of the show reclining in his extraordinarily tacky velour loungewear.
Knowing, nostalgic, and at times exquisitely tender, this is a thoughtful meditation on gay romance and meaningful connections.
Set in the early ’70s in a studio apartment in Boston, USA (the play’s title refers to the street address), 46 Beacon is a simple but affecting tale of coming out and growing up. English actor Robert – on the emotional run from a failing relationship in London, and on the professional run from a ‘juve lead’ career on the skids back home – seduces gauche, theatre-obsessed kid Alan. So far, so straightforward, but writer Bill Rosenfield gives the two characters such interesting, all-too-human quirks and contradictions that we are kept fully engaged for the play’s entire 85 minute duration.
First Night Review
by Dominic Maxwell – The Times
Jay Taylor and Oliver Coopersmith in Bill Rosenfield’s arresting account of an American teenager losing his virginity to a British actor.
The sexual initiate and the serial seducer; it’s a story as old as guilt and hunger, but the American-born playwright Bill Rosenfield finds new angles on it in 46 Beacon. This two-hander is an arresting account of an American teenager losing his virginity to a smoothy-chops British actor in the Boston hotel of the title, in the summer of 1970. Beyond the way the encounter’s mixture of awkwardness, tenderness and accelerated intimacy rings true, it also casts a light on the way that casual gay sex was and is not just a fleeting form of joy, but also a form of community-making for those sidelined by conventional society.
It’s a semi-autobiographical account of Rosenfield’s own rite of passage, and it bears the strengths and weaknesses of that sort of a personal story. So the details are spot-on, or feel it anyway, especially the way that Robert, a chiseled charmer whose career is on the slide, tries to take himself from friend to lover. Jay Taylor as Robert changes into a burgundy tracksuit — no undies! — and looks determinedly deep into the eyes of the author figure, Alan, a teenager from the local theatre sipping his first gin and tonic and declaring it to be like a bitter 7-Up.
This isn’t a sexual abuse story, though; Oliver Coopersmith’s open-faced, but intelligent Alan knows why he’s there, even if he hasn’t quite admitted it to himself. They exchange foot massages and talk about age — Alan considers 30 to be ancient and 40 as beyond the pale — while circling towards sex. Afterwards they talk — explicitly, but never pruriently — about what the encounter means to both of them. Robert is practiced at sex and at separating it from love. Such a separation makes no sense to Alan.
There are revelatory moments, funny moments, tender moments. There are also, as you get often with semi-autobiographical stories, more such moments than the thin plot can quite support. Intimacies leak out, but over 85 minutes the ratio of talk to action is too much in talk’s favour. Still, Alexander Lass’s production is beautifully played by its leads, and manages to be tender and sexually explicit without being sentimental or gratuitous.
BWW Review: 46 BEACON, Trafalgar Studios
Bill Rosenfield’s play transfers to Trafalgar Studios, with Alexander Lass at the helm, following a short Hope Theatre run. His tale of identity, pride and becoming is warm and viciously funny.
Set in the Seventies in a Boston in full queer bloom, the play sees a night that acts as a turning point in the lives of Alan (Oliver Coopersmith), an American 16-year-old boy, and Robert (Jay Taylor), an older British actor. The two come to terms with what it means to be yourself and the inevitable baggage everyone carries.
Taylor is disarmingly earnest in his portrayal. His clever and vaguely snide remarks balance Coopersmith’s awkwardness around desire, and lend dynamic energy to the already outstanding script.
Coopersmith’s depiction of Alan’s youth is thorough, particularly the underlying self-doubt and uncertainty of teenage years. His exchanges with Taylor are impassioned and sincere, and both actors feed off each other’s energy: as Alan exposes Robert’s faults, puncturing his self-assurance and cockiness, the latter manages to break through the boy’s walls and give him a life-changing experience.
The direction is finely tuned, preserving the authenticity of Rosenfield’s semi-autobiographical script, and Ruth Hall’s period design is equally grounded. The room in the theatrical hotel at No.46 Beacon Street is accurate and convincing, and the addition of details like vinyls and bottles to a rather impersonal-looking hotel bedroom make it look like a real-life space.
The comparison of two greatly dissimilar characters draws attention to how perception has enormous power over identity and a person’s individuality. Alan surrendering his expectations and meeting Robert with an open heart in an honest step towards feeling accepted is measured with Robert’s experience of being gay, creating an ever-changing force in the play.
Their conversations, stemming from different stages of life and distinct levels of maturity, spark a reflection on how progress has shaped what it means to be queer, how far gay rights have come, how long the path still is, and most of all how one single night can change your whole life
A beautiful, touching story that’s so much more than just another coming of age tale.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ by thespyinthestalls
After a short stint at The Hope Theatre in 2015, 46 Beacon makes its West End debut in the rather snug Trafalgar Studios 2. A semi-autobiographical work by playwright Bill Rosenfield, 46 Beacon (the curious title is the address where the play is set) is a two hander set in a small studio apartment.
Robert (Jay Taylor) is a British actor who through reasons mainly of his own making, has been forced to get work in a Boston Theatre. There he meets Alan (Oliver Coopersmith), a teenage theatre worker.
Inviting him back to his room, Robert flatters Alan, plies him with drink leading to the inevitable; the sexual awakening of Alan. This sounds almost like a tale of grooming and an older man taking advantage of a confused young man, and you could easily view it as such. However 46 Beacon is much more than that. On a deeper level it explores issues that probably everyone has encountered – the ‘first time’, coping with a troubled relationship, handling rejection.
This is about two gay men, but it’s not so much a coming out story as it could so easily be written for a straight couple. It’s an extremely touching tale that focuses on life’s insecurities for a couple miles apart in age, social background and their viewpoints on what is important in life.
Full of humour (loved the opening description of gay life in the 1970s ‘there was no AIDS to worry about, just crabs’) and full of genuine warmth and emotion. It’s nice to see a play with gay characters feature realistic people and scenarios – currently too many plays feature only muscled youngsters living for club culture.
Casting is spot on – Jay Taylor plays Robert excellently as the manipulating, yet never forceful, older man and Oliver Coopersmith’s portrayal of Alan shines with youthful naivety. A cute little 70s set (Ruth Hall) adds to the overall cosiness of the piece.
Almost fifty years after it’s set, this story is still relevant and the issues raised as fresh as ever. A beautiful, touching story that’s so much more than just another coming of age tale.
Photography by Pete Le May
I’m not ordinarily keen on slow-paced productions in which some patience is required before anything significant happens. Perhaps it’s something to do with being a Londoner, more often in a hurry than not, trying to fit in too much into each and every day. Perhaps it was being told at the outset that this was a story “83 minutes long, and with no interval”. Whatever the root cause, there’s something compelling about 46 Beacon. On one level, this is just another coming of age story – a sort of spring awakening, if you will. Many people, regardless of sexual orientation, will not have forgotten their first time. And yes, I am talking about bedroom activity. But not everyone will recall the exact details as vividly and precisely as it is recounted here.
Seeing as Robert (Jay Taylor) and Alan (Oliver Coopersmith) are meeting properly for the first time, the audience knows as much about the characters as they know about each other. Both actors are perfectly cast, the plot is easy to follow, and the character development is unmistakable. The setting is very clearly set out, with little left to the imagination. Every so often, a reminder of the era pops up – a relatively late reference to ‘Barcelona’ from the musical Company stands out in my memory, though I should confess this has as much to do with the hilarity of the moment in which it is mentioned, as it is with the ‘health warning’ on some of the show’s marketing. Ticket bookers are cautioned that, amongst other things, this production contains ‘musical theatre references’.
The awkwardness of a first meeting, and being unsure as to how one’s comments and conduct will be received, are put across excellently. This is a play that refreshingly bucks a noticeable trend in new plays in recent years, where things are ticking along quite nicely before a critical incident comes along and demolishes a carefree situation, turning it into the worst crisis in the history of the world.
Here, the events of an evening unfold plausibly, and if there were scene changes in the main body of the play (there’s a prologue and an epilogue), they weren’t noticeable, such was the smooth flowing of the play from beginning to end.
The script is peppered with double entendres – I scribbled a couple of lines down, before realising regurgitating them here would be giving away too much. But I did so in the first place, which I don’t ordinarily do, which demonstrates the strength of the witty writing. Both characters find themselves repeatedly digging to extract more information from the other. I suppose it is never easy dredging up the past, or talking about personal matters that have not been discussed with anyone else before. Elsewhere, whoever thought a foot massage could be so gripping (in more ways than one)?
This isn’t about the story as much as it is about the way in which it is told. It’s an eye-opener, and the viewpoints of both characters are weighed up and given equal consideration. I understand this is a semi-autobiographical play from Bill Rosenfield – it certainly felt very authentic and engrossing. A heart-warming and deeply touching production.
★★★★ by Caroline Hanks-Farmer – Carns Theatre Passion
It’s 1970, we’re in a one-roomed apartment on 46 Beacon Street in Boston USA. Robert (Jay Taylor) sets the scene. 46 Beacon is a memory play from award-winning writer Bill Rosenfield, about a very special night in his lifetime. Oliver Coopersmith plays Alan, whom we learn has just turned 16. We witness Alan spend an evening of discovery – an enlightening exploration into his sexuality.
The innocence and naivety shown by Coopersmith was really charming. While the amusement, and maturity of worldly-wise, sexually experienced Taylor, made the chemistry between these two actors palpable. There were references to the era of the 70’s and it illustrated how times have changed, the politics and people’s thoughts.
Rosenfield has written something truly extraordinarily special. It’s well constructed, funny and beautiful. You felt as though you were watching someone’s very personal recollection of a life defining evening, unfold in front of your eyes.
Yes the character name has changed to Alan, but this is Bill’s story. When I recently interviewed both writer and actor playing his younger self, Rosenfield said when he watched Coopersmith he thought to himself “was I ever that innocent”. But clearly he was, as this captivating play captures an evening of immense importance to Rosenfield. A coming of age story, a realisation of sexuality and acceptance of feelings.
At just 83 minutes, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to feel that you could be absorbed in the story, or that the characters could be properly developed in such a short period of time. And yet they are. This is testament to both Rosenfield’s brilliant writing, along with Taylor and Coopersmith’s incredibly believable acting. Their tender intimacy, beautiful to watch with perfect direction by Alexander Lass. There’s something very engaging about watching two actors portray someone’s “first time”. No matter what your sexual orientation, everyone can relate to the situation and connections can be made from your own life experiences. The patient teaching shown by Taylor, with the confused realisation and eye-opening of Coopersmith was very endearing. There was a sweetness to this piece from both actors and writer, an understanding mutual respect from all.
Sometimes as a reviewer you get a feeling that a play is going to leave an imprint on either your mind or your heart. Just like the memory that instigated it, this is one such play.
The writing is witty, endearing, captivating and positively charming, with top-drawer acting from both Taylor and Coopersmith. This moment in Rosenfield’s life made an indelible impression on him, go see it at the Trafalgar Studios to share in it.
46 Beacon Review
A poignant story about a gay man’s self-discovery in 1970s Boston, Bill Rosenfield’s 46 Beacon, directed by Alexander Lass, is bold, raw, real and thought-provoking. A semi-autobiographical depiction – taking place in a small apartment on a rather posh Boston street – the narrative chronicles an intimate moment in time in two men’s lives.
While it could be superficially viewed as a tale of seduction – even bordering on the questionable, as one of the men, Alan, is only just 16 and the other, Robert, is about 40 – it is more complex than that. Robert (Jay Taylor) appears at first to be a rather world-weary transplanted British actor enjoying the vibrant promiscuity of the 70s gay scene. He is confident, quite arrogant, and determined to lure a young stagehand who does not yet know he is a homosexual. Alan (Oliver Coopersmith) seems to be a very naive, rather geeky kid who has trouble finding friends.
Watching the gradual seduction one is expecting Robert to be ruthlessly aggressive, like a predator with prey, when in fact he is gentle and patient, at all times assuring the boy that he can stop if he wants. Alan wants to be talked through it, to find out every detail of Robert’s first time, and about his life and relationships.
The dialogue is fascinating and about the process of coming to terms with one’s sexual identity. Alan speaks of trying to sleep with girls, to fit in, craving normality. Robert helps him understand his homosexuality, progressively introducing him to its realities. Seeming to be a self-serving Lothario, he has in fact given the young man a beautiful gift, an introduction to his true self. Conversely, Alan is a thoughtful person who questions the older man, forcing him to face repressed feelings and emotions.
Taylor and Coopersmith are superb and very natural; the realness of their performance is riveting. Amid brilliantly written conversations, the action is raw, sensual, affectionate and very intimate, and the audience is transfixed, drawn in, rather than being sheepish voyeurs.
A rare, poignant work and a very important and heartfelt study of what it is to be a human being and gay, 46 Beacon is an outstanding play that should be seen. About universal issues such as being true to one’s self and not running away from one’s feelings, it is a piece to which all can relate.
TRAFALGAR Studios is off the beaten track for most West End theatre goers, especially tourists.
The latest ‘transfer’ is 46 Beacon, a play by Bill Rosenfield, which was performed last year at The Hope Theatre.
It is based around two themes – self-esteem (or lack of it) and the emerging gay scene of the 1970s (pre Aids) – and two characters, Robert and Alan.
Robert is the good looking Brit who has come out to Boston, Massachusetts, to revitalise his acting career – and to recover from a breakdown in his relationship with Paul (a picture of whom he keeps next to the double bed in the hotel on Beacon Hill).
Alan, who works part-time for the theatre Robert is appearing at, is young (younger than Robert thinks), slim, intense and slightly awkward.
The first half of the play involves the slow seduction of Alan. Robert plies him with gin and tonic, parades before him provocatively in his pyjamas (and no knickers) and massages his feet. He is relentless but Alan initially resists.
Indeed it takes a while for him to acknowledge his homosexuality. Admitting he ‘jerks off’ to his Dad’s supply of Playboy magazines, he then qualifies his comment by saying he looks at the men’s fashion ads and thinks about them.
It is compulsive viewing, erotic on occasion and cringing at other times. Of course Robert finally gets his way – but not before the lights are dimmed so the conquest is left to our imagination.
With the seduction complete, the rest of the play is spent exposing Robert’s insecurities (his acting and fractured love life) and highlighting Alan’s shock at realising he has been used purely for sex.
When Alan challenges him on this, Robert says: ‘No, I fucked you. I didn’t marry you. We fucked. That’s it.’ Alan is no more than another notch on the bedpost of his sprawling double bed.
Jay Taylor is magnificent as Robert, the seducer. Calculating, relentless, predatory but charming with it. He is also endowed with good looks.
Oliver Coopersmith is not far behind as Alan. All questions and full of contradictions.
By the end of the play, it is Alan who appears the stronger of the two. The experience has catapulted him into manhood. Robert suddenly appears the more vulnerable of the two.
46 Beacon is a fascinating play. 83 minutes that fly by. My experience was slightly ruined by the noise emanating from upstairs (I was not the only one to complain about it afterwards). But it is to Mr Taylor and Mr Coopersmith’s credit that it did not dampen the sexual chemistry between them.
Another great play from Trafalgar Studios. On a roll, I would say.
How many of us can look back at a specific night in our lives and recognise that it has changed who we are forever? Bill Rosenfield can, and 46 Beacon is a semi-autobiographical account of a pivotal July evening in 1970 in a hotel room in Beacon Street, Boston. After a run at The Hope Theatre in Islington, 46 Beacon is a coming-of-age story making its West End debut at Trafalgar Studios.
Directed by Alexander Lass, the two-hander takes us through a night with Robert (Jay Taylor) and Alan (Oliver Coopersmith). Robert, an older and charming British actor working in the States befriends and seduces Alan, a curious and unassuming High School student working in the theatre Robert is performing in. As the night unfolds and many gin and tonics are consumed, adorably described by Alan as ‘like a bitter 7-up’, the pair reluctantly confide in one another and air truths and struggles they hadn’t before admitted, providing an insight into what it was to be gay in the 1970’s.
After a stiff beginning and a few starchy exchanges between the pair, the chemistry kicks in and the dialogue becomes more fluid and natural. As they circle each other, sizing each other up, the sexual tension feels palpable and it’s almost a relief when they finally give in to their desires. From this point onwards, they are free to explore one another’s mind, not just body, and begin to learn from each other.
Taylor as Robert is liberal, stylish and irresistibly British in his wine-coloured velour tracksuit, with a sort of John Stamos smile and the voice, vocabulary and dry humour of Hugh Grant in a Richard Curtis film. He gently introduces Alan to a world he has so far been denying, and in turn is coaxed by Alan to confront his own issues that he has been avoiding. Coopersmith as Alan is preppy and sweet, and although obviously inexperienced, he isn’t naïve. He asks questions and pushes Robert, but at the same time he listens, and Coopersmith gives him just the right balance of confidence and caution.
Knowing that 46 Beacon is semi-autobiographical, it feels almost cathartic. With the knowledge that Rosenfield has let us in on such a memorable moment in his life, the play is given an authentic, sentimental tone. The small and enclosed space of Trafalgar Studios 2 lends itself perfectly to the piece, as its cosiness creates an intimate atmosphere and aids connection with the characters. 46 Beacon is tender and heart-filled, and no matter who you love, you’ll leave with the feeling you’ve gained something.
★★★★ by Chris Bridges – THEGAYUK
It’s 1970 and for Robert, the air is heavy with the promise of straight, gay and even group sex as the hedonistic sixties leave behind a legacy of enhanced freedom for gay men.
A suave and handsome British actor, Robert, has invited gauche teenage virgin, Alan, to his Boston hotel room for a drink and a chat (and hopefully an easy no-strings shag without his ‘room mate’ back in London finding out). The gin flows and it’s not just flesh that’s bared as they probe each other in more ways than one. Alan is overwhelmed, unsure of himself and his sexuality. Appearances are deceptive, though and Robert isn’t quite the carefree shagger he initially appears to be.
This is a charming play that’s both warm and witty with plenty of wry humour and a touching message. The pace flags occasionally but picks up again. Overall it’s a resonant play touching on themes of alienation and feeling lost within the life you’ve made that I’m sure will be familiar to lots of us.
The setting might be 47 years ago but as the saying goes: the more things change the more they stay the same. This is an incisive and fascinating glimpse of gay life that whilst humorous, I’m sure will make you wince at times as you recall your own past. Well worth 83 minutes of your time.