COMIC Alistair McGowan, who admitted he questioned whether to star in a controversial play about shamed DJ Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes, has been praised by critics for a “revolting” performance.
An Audience With Jimmy Savile, which opened to the press in London last night, had faced questions over its timing and whether it would be seen as “entertainment”.
McGowan perfectly captured the once-revered children’s television presenter’s eccentric persona, according to reviews.
The casting of a likeable comedian in the title role of the Yorkshire DJ was a clever one, the Independent said, “since it arouses expectations of a likeable comic impression and so heightens the chilling glimpses we get of the intimidating thug under the clown persona that so calculatedly harnessed ‘the power of odd’”.
Set in 1991, the play at the Park Theatre draws on transcripts of interviews, witness statements and official reports, and centres on a This Is Your Life-style show.
While criticising the play for lacking drama and repeating much of what the public already know about the paedophile, the Telegraph hailed the lead actor.
“Initially it looked as if McGowan would stay close to the surface, but slowly he teases out a riveting, revolting performance that is by far the best thing of the evening,” the paper said.
The production was “illuminating”, according to WhatsOnStage.com, describing the jolt the audience feels with McGowan’s arrival on stage as a shell-suited Savile.
But one of Savile’s victims told the Daily Mirror she was disappointed by the play, describing it as a missed opportunity.
Dee Coles said: “The play showed Savile to be bad and mean, but not evil. And believe me, he was evil.”
She added: “They missed the subtleties of Savile’s behaviour, just like they missed them back then.”
McGowan has previously said he did not just have second thoughts about playing Savile but “third, fourth, fifth and sixth thoughts” too.
Having taken part in a tribute show to Savile after his death - before the DJ was unmasked as a predatory paedophile - McGowan said the play will go some way to allowing him to “redress that”.
The play’s writer, journalist Jonathan Maitland, received abuse on Twitter when he revealed he would be staging the story, but has insisted it is an important one that needs to be told.
He said that the play was “not entertainment” but “like a public service forum”.