In an ordinary dining room, probably in a small town in Essex still linked to the East End of London culturally and socially, an 18 year-old boxer is celebrating his birthday and training for the Olympic trials. His mother and sister bicker as guests arrive and the lamb chars in the oven. So far, so what? And things could have stayed that way had the boxer not been gay.
Proud (at The Lost Theatre until 11 August) has many of the elements of a traditional farce and just a touch of the 21st century "issue-led" soap opera too. As Lewis, Parry Glasspool does the comic stuff well and looks the part, but betrays his youthful inexperience in more tender moments with his older boyfriend Tom (Matthew Hebden). Circling this odd couple as drinks and an Iceland King Prawn starter are consumed with enthusiasm and reluctance respectively, are Lewis’ sister (Ellie Sussams), all push-up bra and post-teenage angst; Ally (Claire Huskisson) Tom’s neurotic gay flatmate who takes a shine to Colleen; and Mac (Charlie Carter) Lewis’ old school boxing trainer and surrogate father, whose grip on his protégé is slipping. Holding it all together (the party and the play) is Rachel, Lewis’ long-suffering mother, a woman not burdened with self-awareness and splendidly played by Virginia Byron, cracking the one liners like Naseem Hamed cracked heads.
It would be easy to say that Proud has more holes in its plot than there are in Audley Harrison’s record and that fewer homilies from Mac and more byplay between Ally and Colleen would have been welcome, but that would be to concentrate on its shortcomings . In its favour, John Stanley has written a situation comedy centred on a member of a community as good as invisible at The Greatest Show On Earth. There’s wit, wisdom and sensitivity between the punchlines and punch lines, as we find out that Lewis wants it all. And that he can have it all too – straight or gay.