The most offensive thing about An Audience With Jimmy Savile is the missed opportunity. You have a star turn here – Alistair McGowan – who is more than capable of recreating the reviled entertainer in vivid, if not perfect detail. Stick him under the microscope, force him into the trial he escaped with his death, finish the psychological examination Louis Theroux began. Instead, what is presented tonight is a bogstandard trawl through known facts about the nation’s most famous serial sex offender.
We know what Savile did. We know his victims weren’t believed. We know he used the establishment to cover his tracks. Why waste time on an anaemic storyline, very averagely acted, in which an everywoman presents her case to a succession of authority figures – her father, an unconvincing hack journalist, an ineffectual pair of police officers – only to be told by each of them, “you can’t say that about Jimmy.” It doesn’t pay respect to the victims, it reduces them to a lowest common denominator, a paint-by-numbers portrait of powerlessness.
The man himself is introduced by means of a This Is Your Life -style TV show. A bland host welcomes on stage figures from Savile’s past, to fill out his backstory. McGowan himself is good, graphic, way outplaying the supporting cast. An hour with him under the spotlight may have got somewhere.
But the nearest Savile gets to a trial is an encounter with his victim. She concludes, in accusatory manner, “you’re a lonely old man, who hurts people” – banality that’s almost laughable. The ending is eye-rollingly poor.
Where are the real questions? Did he really in the deepest recesses of his soul believe what he did was justified? Was there any inner torment at all? What in his psyche led him to do it? How did he construct the edifice around him that allowed him to go undetected? Did he plan it or was it fortuitous? Did he worry it would ever crumble? What was the real truth about his relationship with his mother? Almost incidental references are made to some of these and maybe, possibly, there was an attempt to answer one – the inner torment question – with a line near the end, but that may be crediting the play with too much analytical weight. It’s more likely that all these questions have simply been dismissed as too complex in favour of a shockingly superficial play.