SHOCKING, SHAMING, MAYBE SALUTARY
It is a cliché to say that over decades of TV fame, showy fundraising and hidden sexual crime Savile ‘groomed the nation”. There were indeed encomia – which Maitland pitilessly uses verbatim – from Prince Charles (“my health adviser, trusted confidant, friend”) Mrs Thatcher calling him a great man, Cardinal Hume praising his faith (the man was a Papal Knight of St Gregory, for God’s sake!) . And, of course, from ministers and NHS managers who gave him, literally, the keys to Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor, and BBC mandarins who went on celebrating him in death despite clear warnings. What is not said often enough is that all the above were upper-middle professionals or toffs: it was partly inverted snobbery which stopped them suspecting their “token pleb”. Bevin boy, ex-wrestler, Northern DJ – prole box ticked! Beyond those charmed circles plenty of us always found him creepy and turned away shuddering. Yet nobody except his young victims knew the reality. That remains a national disgrace.
Maitland’s tightly researched, gripping 85-minute play alternates the tribute show with the testimony of “Lucy” a disbelieved victim drawn from several accounts, and flashes of the violent bullying threats with which he fended off doubters. There are nice evocations of the feeble police attempts at questioning him in his lifetime , and the even feebler, nervous questions about his dressing-room habits by the BBC man Seed. “Just Jimmy being Jimmy”. Director Brendan O’Hea keeps it moving, preventing us from laughter even at the most absurd praise or horribly telling remarks by the man himself. But I kept inwardly asking “What is this achieving? We know the horror, why dramatize it, even in this unprurient way?”
The answer is simple: because he never came to justice. That shaming truth needs expiation. In the last ten minutes comes the scene which didn’t happen. Lucy – calmly, finely played by Leah Whitaker – delivers the acccusation that when she was twelve, in hospital, he raped her. As he did many, many others. Savile, ever angrier, delivers the half-baked theological theory, from his “God’ll fix it’ book, claiming that his fundraising credit account outweighs “slip-ups” and that it was his body’s fault not his. He blusters, calls her ignorant, boasts of Papal and Royal decorations and even his Friend of Israel award .
Lucy will have none of it, and calls him to his face a “shrivelled, stinking, lonely old man who hurts people”. What happens next sends the whole audience into shock. And, I think, justifies what Maitland has done. Because for all the millions of words since, for all the smashing of his tombstone and the humiliation of his grand apologists, we’ll get no other closure.
box office 0207 870 6876 to 11 July