An Audience With Jimmy Savile

As a career move, dying was the savviest option for Jimmy Savile. Unlike American comedian Bill Cosby, who’s still alive to issue terse denials to the more than 50 women who’ve alleged that he drugged and raped them, BBC TV and radio star Savile was safely toes up before his sex crimes were revealed and investigated.

McGowan is brilliantly chilling as Savile, mimicking the quacking voice, the torrents of jabberwocky he spewed when he felt someone was about to blow his cover as a serial felon.

Jonathan Maitland’s taut and tightly acted An Audience with Jimmy Savile was a smash hit at London’s Park Theatre and packed the house at Assembly Studio One during its short Fringe run. (It closes August 22.) It is a slick piece of docudrama. Journalist Maitland has drawn on Savile’s own words from interviews, police transcripts and TV appearances to give audiences, some of whom may not be familiar with the sordid Savile case, a basic primer on who the man was, what he did and how he got away with it.

Impressionist-turned-actor Alistair McGowan plays Savile as a sneering snake in a scraggly white pageboy wig and blue lamé boiler suit. An Audience opens with Savile, never without his fat cigar, sitting down for a This Is Your Life-type TV special hosted by an unctuous presenter uttering oiling phrases about 'honouring heroes’ and how Savile is 'the most-loved man in Britain.’

For decades he was, cosying up to royals, prime ministers (Maggie adored him) and the doctors of the two hospitals he fundraised for and that gave him free run of their premises. Where, according to what’s now known, Savile raped and molested children, teenagers, senior citizens, patients with physical and mental disabilities and, according to some reports, perhaps the recently deceased remains of others.

The play doesn’t get into all the gory details, but it does get into some. Maitland telescopes Savile’s teenage victims into one composite character, a woman who was never believed when she told authorities and her parents that Savile raped her in hospital when she was 12. (He gave her a signed photo and a crucifix as souvenirs of the attack.)

'People don’t want to believe things about famous people,’ a policeman tells her when she tries to get law enforcement to file charges against Savile. When they attempt to question him about numerous accusations from the 1970s (including a suspicion that he was the Yorkshire Ripper), he flies into a rage, screaming 'Never happened!’ and threatens to take the 'slags’ and 'tarts’ to court for slandering him. (Actors Charlotte Page, Robert Perkins, Graham Seed and Leah Whitaker smoothly step in and out of multiple roles in the play.)

No question that McGowan is brilliantly chilling as Savile, mimicking the quacking voice, the torrents of jabberwocky he spewed when he felt someone was about to blow his cover as a serial felon. Where the play lets McGowan’s performance down is in its choppy scene structure (the Fringe version did lose 20 minutes from the London one) and its reliance on clichés. When one of Savile’s victims confronts him in his home – a fiction that feels false and melodramatic – he slugs her. Rising slowly from the floor, she tells Savile she no longer hates him – and you hope that the next words won’t be 'now I pity you.’ But that’s what she says.

As Jimmy Savile’s crimes continue to make headlines, An Audience is sure to keep finding audiences interested in seeing the monster reanimated, if only for a little over an hour. After that it’s good to remember that he’s a’moulderin’. Savile said he wanted his epitaph to read 'I won.’ He died thinking he did.

Reviews by Elaine Liner

The Assembly Rooms

Ricky Tomlinson: Guilty My Arse

★★★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Backstage in Biscuit Land

★★★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Plain English

★★
Zoo Southside

The Ted Bundy Project

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

The most talked about show and performance of 2015: Alastair McGowan as Jimmy Savile. 'One of the most compelling, successful displays of stage acting I have seen. Terrifying.' (Mark Lawson, New Statesman). A TV show celebrates the recently knighted "Most Trusted Man In Britain". But while the great and good praise him a different story unfolds, as one woman seeks justice. Based on genuine interviews, transcripts and TV shows, the play explores how one man used fame, intimidation and manipulation to fool our trusted institutions, and simultaneously to groom the nation. ***** (Independent).

Most Popular See More

Come From Away

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Wicked

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets