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Review: Above The Stag Theatre presents E.M. Forster’s MAURICE

Maurice, Above The Stag Theatre
Maurice, Above The Stag Theatre

There was a time when one (sort of) knew what to expect from a production at Above The Stag Theatre – the script wouldn’t be anything to write home about, the acting and directing were passable, but there would be a lot of passion and spirit – and fun. Thus, the audience would be kind and forgiving, and if the main thing is that we all had a good time, then ultimately the fact that we left the theatre in a borderline ecstatic mood would be a Very Good Thing.

Then, having outgrown its premises (and not for the first time – an introductory note in the programme refers to their current building as “our beautiful new new home”) there is significantly more space both on-stage and off: how wonderful to be able to navigate the bar and foyer area without having to jostle for space, and the main house has comfortable seating and does better than many West End theatres at temperature control. Maurice, being what a fellow theatregoer described as “proper theatre” – as opposed to those miscellaneous variations of the likes of Naked Boys Singing and The Full Monty – does stand apart from, say, Above The Stag’s recent offering, Grindr The Opera.

Not that there isn’t bedroom activity in this adaptation by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham of an EM Forster novel written before its time. As one might reasonably expect, some periphery characters, scenes and descriptions have been taken out, but this is otherwise a production faithful to the original. Tom Joyner in the title role of Maurice Hall puts in a remarkable performance, and all the show’s programme tells the audience about him is that he graduated from Drama Centre London just this summer. He has an excellent stage presence (as does Max Keeble’s Clive Durham), and captures the character’s ever-changing feelings and emotions flawlessly. I wish him a long and
successful career.

Particularly in the first half, the set (David Shields) captures the scholastic setting of Hall’s time at Cambridge. The dialogue is delightfully and distinctly British, two of the many memorable turns of phrases being, “Would you mind awfully if…” and “If it’s not too much trouble”, and, of course, nobody does mind awfully and it’s seldom too much trouble. The philosophical and religious discussions are in keeping with the inquisitive characters and educational surroundings – but, to be blunt, they are not exactly edge-of-the-seat conversations, and my thoughts were momentarily elsewhere.

Good things come to those who wait, to quote a certain advertising campaign, and in the second half, with most of the characters and their backstories established in the first, the production is riveting. Anne Woods (Lily Knight) is like a breath of fresh air in the increasingly strained relationship between Hall and Durham – as they call each other in the manner of public schoolboys. She’s one of those people that brightens the mood in a room just by walking into it and saying hello. A bizarre (by contemporary standards, at least) hypnosis treatment conducted by Mr Lasker Jones (Daniel Goode) is rather saddening to watch, though it’s performed very convincingly.

And then there’s Alec Scudder (Leo Turner), a likeable boy-next-door character. I’m not sure which was more radical considering the pre-World War One setting – that Hall eventually comes to terms with being gay, or that he settles down with someone from a different class and background. If anything, the production demonstrates how far the world has come, and in some respects, how far it still has to go. The closing scene might have been a tad melodramatic (a couple of people in my row struggled to contain their laughter) but all things considered, this was a superb and admirable experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Completed in 1914, Maurice remained unpublished until after Forster’s death in 1970. A boldly optimistic tale of passion and defiance, the novel is at once a moving love story and a portrait of a young man’s erotic and political self-discovery. By the author of Howard’s End, A Room with a View and A Passage To India, Maurice is a plea for emotional and sexual honesty and a critique of repressive attitudes in British society.

Listings information
Maurice by E.M. Forster
adapted by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham
Director: James Wilby
Designer: David Shields
Lighting Designer: Jack Weir
Casting: Harry Blumenau for Debbie O’Brien Casting
Producer – Peter Bull for Above The Stag Theatre
12 September – 21 October 2018. Press night 14 September at 7.30pm.

Above The Stag Theatre
72 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7TP
http://www.abovethestag.com/

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