Thursday, 1 April 2010
No fooling with Maurice
When friends Lars and Jan bought tickets for a pub-theatre adaptation of E M Forster's coming-out classic - J's battered but treasured old paperback copy, not long after publication, is illustrated above - I was wary. Some of the worst productions I've ever seen have been above or below the bar: sub-student Genet at the White Bear in Kennington, some nightmare the name of which I forget at our local, the Curtain's Up, in which Nazis stagily pondered the Final Solution in a dank basement (Sara Kestelman was in it, for the playwright's sake, and did her charismatic best to dignify the whole farrago). At least the latter was where we first met our now great muse and Djenne Djenno doyenne Sophie Sarin, having been asked to take her to something to cheer her up at the time. Well, we laughed, but for the wrong reasons.
Pleasantly surprised, then, by our visit to the Stag in Victoria, though, and at times amazed. Roger Parsley and Andy Graham had taken all the significant one-to-ones from the novel and, not stinting on the intellectual name-dropping, given them space to breathe. So, for a start, there was naturalistic dialogue for the actors to get their teeth into. Which they did with varying success; but there could be no doubt about Adam Lilley's hero. A bit of an everyman, by no means unattractive, this Maurice grew convincingly from wide-eyed schoolboy to priggish student to real man.
He had some fine actors to spark off. Not so much Rob Stott's Durham (pictured left above - all production photos by Derek Drescher), who looked the intellectual-nervous type but didn't quite sound it, though he cried convincingly; oddly, the scenes with Persia Lawson's very touching sister Ada had more fire.
There were two consummate cameos from Jonathan Hansler, giving the audience confidence in the start and popping up as the soft-spoken hypnotist Mr Lasker Jones who gets the most famous line ('England has always been disinclined to accept human nature').
And the Scudder did not let us down, unless you're fixated on Rupert Graves's cute young thing in the Merchant-Ivory film (I'm not). Bright-eyed and responsive, fight man Stevie Raine's gamekeeper seemed plausible enough on first acquaintance
and in a sweet bed scene, rather less raunchy than I suspect the Above the Stag Theatre regulars are accustomed to seeing.
Intelligent use of music, practical costuming and adaptable lighting in Tim McArthur's seamless production added to the pleasure of the close-up experience, though if this Maurice transfers - and I hope it will - it'll need a better backdrop than the boarding-house walls. The show's been completely sold out and there aren't even any tickets left for the extended run, which ends on Saturday. I wish it a bright future, especially as these excellent actors can't have made much money even with full houses of 60 or so every night.
Had a bit of a shock last night, apropos of our Bedlam Theatre nostalgia trip. Remember how I apologised to director David Bannerman, wherever he might be, for dissing the second-week revue which helped us young things to bond in mirth agin him? Well, where he was last night was on the telly, being snapped at by Paxman on Newsnight as he spoke up for the risible UK Independence Party. So this one-time would-be man of the theatre and scriptwriter who back then sported a dodgy moustache is now one of those 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists', as even Cameron denounced them back in 2006; more than that, he's the right-hand man of Nigel Farage, so embarrassing in his recent European Parliament attack on the president of the EU Council. It's official, then: for the Edinburgh class of 1980-84 Bannerman (who's added 'Campbell' to his surname thanks to a distant connection with the more famous liberal) IS Widmerpool from Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time.
On which note, and by no means unconnected to the English prejudices exposed in Maurice, let me leave you with a gem, Dan and Dan's 'Daily Mail song'. You'll need to go over to YouTube to see 'both' Dans, but the essential visuals are leftscreen. Enjoy.