Alastair Smith, Celebrity Paedophiles, Claire Wood, Claire Wood’s Beauty, Edinburgh Fringe, EGTG, Gregor Haddow, Laura Jimenez, Lauryn Murray, Matt O’Hagan, Miriam Thomson, Paedophilia, The Royal Scots Club, Theatre Review, Wendy Brindle
[The following contains spoilers.]
“beauty” is a new play from Edinburgh’s Claire Wood. The setting is a rock star mansion in rural Perthshire and the hero is a rock star photographer, Ty Jackson (Gregor Haddow), who is world famous for his portraiture. When we meet him, he is searching for his muse in some ill-advised places. His models are fourteen and fifteen years old; they are being photographed in Ty’s home studio without a chaperone. Ty is impatient to discover an elusive “beauty” – his girlfriend Heloise (Laura Jimenez) is impatient with his otherworldliness. Heloise is shown to be right to worry when an investigative journalist (Wendy Brindle) invades this play’s sanctum. She will steal a story that was previously ours alone to see and deliver it up to the rest of the world’s eyes.
Staged amidst the plushness of the Royal Scots Club, this play luxuriates in its characters. It is a rich dish, with the magnetic central performance from Gregor Haddow being superbly offset by three shrewd character portraits from Miriam Thomson, Lauryn Murray, and Matt O’Hagan (i.e. as the photographer’s young models). Ty is a paradoxical creation, a naïf who is too commonsensical to heed his girlfriend’s shrill anxieties about the danger he is in. He is still not entirely likeable, or not quite the noble savage who is too virtuous for our fussy civilisation. He flicks through girls, expecting their beauty to jump out at him rather than looking for it. He discards them as worthless when they fail to respond immediately to his brusque interrogations.
Strangely, Ty’s character is fortified by the sardonic attitude that “beauty” takes towards his photography. The sole example of his work that we are given – a portrait of a blandly smiling model – is gleefully undermined midway through the play by the news that she was high on coke when the picture was taken. This narrative tactic is a crucial one. If we were forced to believe in Ty’s art, the danger is that we might not do so, and it is thus taken off the table from the very beginning. We see only the compulsion behind it.
Although “beauty” appears to lay claim to the whole subject of celebrity paedophilia, it will not be tempted any further than ankle-depth into this moral morass. “beauty” instead resembles one of those Victorian plays about the tyranny of respectability, a play in which some people stay true to themselves, and others buckle, when society imposes its random demands. None of the characters have bad motivations – indeed, there is a goodness or even an innocence at the centre of the story that refuses to dissolve as the heat is turned up.
It is obvious from start to finish that Ty is not a paedophile. The unexpectedly needy Daily Mail journalist is not as bad as she first seems either. There is not even a persuasive menace to Ty’s pervy crony Callum (Alastair Smith) and we might suspect that he utters his crass remarks only because he likes to hear himself talk. Callum is always relaxed but never able to provide reassurance – maybe he is on stage just to assist in the delicately uneasy atmosphere. Heloise is not bad or wrong – simply unable to make an imaginative connection with Ty.
“beauty” is, in the end, a fairy story. Ty is electrified when, after photographing two ugly sisters, the shoe suddenly fits and he has encountered a quite unlikely Cinderella. This, a yobbish teenaged boy (O’Hagan), is to our eyes nothing like a princess and yet perhaps we can almost imagine the Cinderella transformation through Ty’s camera lens.