This review was originally published in
I watched ‘An audience with Jimmy Savile’ with a slight preconception of where this was going to go and thought I would probably feel uncomfortable with much of what I saw as I expected that it might be something that was attempting to draw in box office revenue and headlines about a play, about a man, about survivors, about how they were abused, used and scarred and then he died and the truth came out. Wrong.
I watched as the play opened and within two minutes a tear fell from my eye as I listened to the harrowing details of Lucy (played by Leah Whitaker) the generic victim of Savile told of her abuse and riddled with angst as she realised her abuse started at the age of her own child. A trigger point for adult survivors who struggle on regardless until faced by a mirror of their own innocence lost as their own child reaches the age they were torn from their own innocence.
That’s where the new struggle started for Lucy, the disbelief of others and being branded as a slag, a tart, a gold digger. No one would believe her and it’s about what others think of you that can drive a survivor to despair.
When Jimmy Savile (played by Alistair McGowan) often referred to as So-vile by many of his victims came on set there was an intake of breath by the audience that almost caused a vacuum in the room and a mesmerising realisation that his appearance and voice and most especially, his hand movements made one feel as though the antichrist of childhood innocence had risen.
His close ally throughout Ray Teret (played by Robert Perkins) who Savile described as his chauffeur, his fixer and bodyguard but most importantly his friend ‘counts them in, counts them out, checks the birth certificate’ was there to do his bidding and seemed to relish his role as the confidante and associate abuser.
As the play unravelled it became more apparent that Savile struck fear in those that questioned, he had built the foundations, put up the walls and paid for the roof to ensure he could not be touched, he was protected, he could not be touched, he created his own housing estate with Broadmoor, the NHS, the BBC, Monarchy, Stoke Mandeville, the Conservative Party, Police, Dunscroft and other schools as the tenants, a housing estate of varying vulnerabilities that Savile sought to manage and control and successfully kept a grip on throughout.
That estate, with its protectors such as the BBC he called ‘one big family’ and with family ‘yes it all goes away’.
The ‘This is your Life’ contrast and a symbolic red chair, representing Savile’s fix it for you chair were chilling reminders of how highly he was regarded by mainstream society but not for his victims. It was chilling that during the play we heard he was suspected of being the Yorkshire Ripper and his dental records were checked to see if bite marks on the rippers victims matched, yet Savile still walked large amongst us, protected by those in power who were powerless.
Things started to turn and continued to unravel for Savile as Lucy grew stronger and fast moved forward to being a survivor than a victim. Though you had on one side the unreliable witnesses, liars, slags, kids who had been given general anaesthetic, the deranged and unstable. Savile chose his victims purposefully, anyone without a voice. On his side he had, the police, the BBC, Royals and politicians, on the side of the victims of Savile…… Nothing.
Savile was the de facto boss whilst heads of the institutions were merely the headed paper boss.
It became more and more clear that Savile had groomed the nation into believing he was a national institution, to be revered to be respected to love and laugh at, as the clown who could do no wrong. The perfect guise he perfected to walk amongst the vulnerable undetected.
As the play moved at a fast pace and Savile’s interactions with Lucy became more unravelling for him it built like a this is your knife-edge and the atmosphere intensified and on the final meeting with Lucy she tells him so much about himself and tells him she now pities him, she had truly become a survivor, he punches her, I sat back in my seat and cried, feeling she had been abused again. But no, what I saw was that throughout the play, Savile had controlled everything through his intellect and cunning as a beast stalking his prey but as Lucy became stronger he was losing his grip and when he punches her he had posthumously lost control and he could see what he was, but more importantly Lucy was no longer a victim, she was a survivor and had taken away Savile’s control of the most important part of his control, himself.
I spoke with many people after the performance because this isn’t a normal review of a play, this is a review of a survivor of abuse and Karin Ward (a survivor of Savile’s abuse) agrees this play needs to be seen, not necessarily by survivors but most especially by the institutions that protected him and those that never suffered abuse so that they can understand what can happen through abuse and most especially those that do not believe, still, that Savile was a prolific abuser.
Survivors who choose to see the play should take heed of the parental advice that this play contains strong verbal content, I would suggest that survivors could have their inner child resurface and it will be their inner child that sees the play so take heed of that advice. Watch with caution but above all this play needs to be seen by a vast audience. I commend Jonathan Maitland in taking the decision not to release photographs of Alistair McGowan as Savile. This play will most likely be the only time McGowan will ever be seen as Savile or at least I would hope so.
The applause of the preview night was long and seemed to represent an appreciation of the sensitivity the author, director, cast and crew had paid to the content.
I applaud you again with all my dissociated identities.