The title of the play alone is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. Is it too soon, can it be seen as glorifying Jimmy Savile’s crimes or too sick to be dramatized into a play?
The first of a month’s run at North London’s Park Theatre a play created by Jonathan Maitland and sees a focus on 1991 –the year where Savile received a knighthood and his ‘celebrity status’ was at a height in the UK.
A narrative juxtaposing between a This is your Life forefront with the praising of Savile and his achievements, featuring voiceovers of Margret Thatcher and Cardinal Hume, while in reality the ‘saint like’ figure was being accused of sexual harassment and assault on the productions he worked on. Both contexts of the play give a glimpse of the two sides to Savile’s life and in particular how controlling he was.
Leading the cast was impressionist Alistair McGowan, who plays the grotesque man in question with an eerie resemblance to Savile with his mannerisms, characteristics and distinctive accent being brought back to life. The production, which has already received controversy over the topic being too soon, stuck true to form by embarking on the full costume attire Savile was seen in – a metallic tracksuit, blonde wig and cigar kept McGowen’s performance mesmerising of being transformed into a truly monstrous man.
The first allegation sees a BBC researcher walk in on Savile’s dressing room, whom he was with a young girl, in which the researcher reports Savile to a BBC boss. Nevertheless begins the journey of how Savile got away with one of the biggest sex scandals, with the BBC boss simply responding ‘That’s Jimmy, that is who he is and what he does’ leaving audience members still in shock four years since Savile’s death.
The main allegation focused on Lucy, played by Leah Whitaker, whose performance is compelling with every audience member feeling empathy towards her character. Lucy’s story sees her come forward, on how she was abused by Savile in a hospital aged 12, reporting both to the police and an editor of a newspaper. The only person throughout the play to believe Lucy’s character is the editor until Savile manipulation is attained.
Savile’s celebrity status and power over the lawyers, police and several journalists were extraordinary by having ‘Friday morning clubs’ and discussing the allegations and claims that were made against him from that week, with victims had no chance of bringing Savile to justice.
The play features real events from Savile’s past by including his work at Broadmoor; Jim’ll Fix It and the marathons he ran. McGowen makes eye contact and interacts with members of the front row on why it was called “Jim’ll” rather than “Jim will” believing it would be more relatable to the public. Notably Savile’s persona was for the public and with the public with frequent references throughout the play of his charity work and how much money he has ‘raised for the little kiddies’.
The dark context divulges on Savile’s incidents discussing his visit to the hospitals late at night and how Lucy’s character describes her seeing Savile ‘jump on a woman before calmly walking out again’. These descriptions only contribute to the further chilling, indiscrete human being with the play not glorifying his crimes but proving how unsettling Savile really was.
An Audience with Jimmy Savile draws extensively from witness statements and police interview transcripts, with the attention to detail being notable in the production. During police questioning and seeing Savile fidget- by hating not being in control of the situation and how close the victim’s stories were brought to the public attention. As each allegation was listed Savile would respond with a repetitive “Out of the Question” remark –brazenly avoiding the claims.
Savile’s persona was undeterminably disillusioned using charity work to abuse and assault hundreds of victims using elite people and organisations such as the BBC, the Royals and the law to enforce his ‘clear conscience’ to the public and be made to believe he is a honourable and ordinary celebrity fundraiser.
Since the allegations were bought to light Savile has received extensive coverage through newspapers, TV and books. An Audience with Jimmy Savile does not glorify his crimes but tells a story and a report of the news on the extraordinary crimes he committed. The purpose of the play is to present the ordeals his victims went through with the victim’s voices finally being heard.
Graduate Multimedia Journalist, Online Editor at CIO UK and contributing writer at Culturefly and Contact Music.