Flashy rings, big cigar, crummy tracksuit, string vest. I knew that seeing that iconic image made flesh once more was always going to be a deeply uncomfortable experience but still it came as a shock last night in An Audience with Jimmy Savile at the Park Theatre.  

The play opens with a glowing list of his achievements, read out by an ingratiating talk show host: "Legendary DJ, TV star, 40 million raised for charity, 22 million viewers, please welcome..." and then the embodiment of Savile bounds onto the stage. The auditorium is deathly silent, no one claps, despite the 'studio audience' atmosphere.
The performance alternates between the on-screen persona - tireless charity campaigner, major-league celebrity, knight of the realm - and the reality of the predatory paedophile lurking behind. We meet the newspaper editor who tried to expose him and the police officers who attempted an investigation - all threatened into submission. Then there's the broadcasting execs and the hospital staff who turned a blind eye - subsumed by his political and monetary clout. We meet an amalgam of his victims called Lucy, the only one prepared to risk everything to be heard, to have the truth known about the monster he really was. Between them Charlotte Page, Robert Perkins, Graham Seed and Leah Whitaker make these characters real people, so it is all the more affecting when they are crushed, bullied, mocked, abused and beaten. 

Alistair McGowan does an impression that is almost but not quite Jimmy Savile. A spot more intonation and it would be too lifelike, too close for those whose lives have been wrecked by his actions. Rape, intimidation, bullishness, bribery - these were the tools Savile used to control people and no one saw fit to stopped him in his lifetime. Still, the horror of his behaviour has to come out, if only so that those people he betrayed can finally know their suffering has been acknowledged.

Does the production go far enough? It is chilling, well written, masterfully measured and utterly shaming. It casts an unforgiving glow on those institutions that praised and protected him. If it teaches us to listen to the vulnerable and to defend the weak then yes. If it asks us to question the motives of the powerful and the seemingly untouchable, then certainly. The BBC may have wiped his image from reams of Top of The Pops footage but his crimes cannot be erased. 
"In the bank account of life I know that I am in the black," crows Saville, but we are free to judge him and to condemn. At last the perpetrator does not go unpunished. 

Five stars

Park Theatre until July 11. Details: 020 7870 6876, parktheatre.co.uk