Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: An Audience with Jimmy Savile; the Motherfucker with the Hat

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: An Audience with Jimmy Savile; the Motherfucker with the Hat

Article excerpt

An Audience with Jimmy Savile

Park Theatre, until 11 July

The Motherfucker with the Hat

Lyttelton Theatre, in rep until 20 Aug

Ho hum. Bit icky. Not bad. Hardly dazzling. The lukewarm response to An Audience With Jimmy Savile has astonished me. This is the best docudrama I've seen on stage. From the early 1970s, Britain swooned before Savile. Marketing pollsters found him the country's best-loved celeb (bar the Queen Mum). He enforced his influence by winning over several establishments at once, the royals, the Beeb, the NHS, the media, the charity sector, Westminster. Evidence of his criminality existed but it never affected his reputation. He's the nearest we've come to Hitler.

The show takes the format of a TV biography which is intercut with scenes from Savile's early life and testimony from his victims. Alistair McGowan's ownership of Savile's persona is astounding. The gestures, the mannerisms, the voice and the accent have been studied and replicated with meticulous precision. Jonathan Maitland's script performs a similar job with Savile's distinctive mix of self-deprecating gags and folksy rhetoric. The man we first meet isn't a louche and slippery pervert but a consummate entertainer. We've forgotten just how attractive he was. His easy wit and rough-diamond charm made him not merely appealing but also irresistible.

Enter the first victim. Now an adult, she recalls being befriended by Savile as he roamed Stoke Mandeville Hospital wearing a porter's uniform, which he knew gave him an air of authority. He quizzed the little girl about her condition and lured her into the TV room where he assaulted her. She didn't understand she was being raped because she was only 12. That night she wrote 'Your porter hurt me' on a page torn from a Bible, which she delivered to the hospital's internal mail service. Nothing was done. Savile was more than a one-man molestation squad. He was deeply weird. He worshipped his mother ('the duchess') and he liked to snuggle up to elderly female patients as they slept. The nurses, accustomed to this foible, used to shoo him out of the ward with an indulgent warning. 'Now, now, Jimmy.' That was the sternest reproof he ever received.

The police were sufficiently concerned to include Savile, briefly, in the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. But he never faced charges. This play explains why. Detectives confront him at home with a string of allegations which he rebuffs using a well-rehearsed confection of vanity and menace.

First he reels off a list of potentates who admire him. …

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