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.


Gavin Plumley said...

Interesting to read your comments on this... Forster and theatre have always seemed polar opposites to me, but am now rather curious.

David said...

What about Forster and film, Gavin? Didn't you find Howard's End impressive? And Maurice wasn't bad on screen either - certainly had a huge impact on me at the time. The play script is more daring, though.

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

In his old age, Forster used to sit in a deck chair on the lawn at King's reading detective novels with extremely lurid covers. He was always open to conversation, and as so often one regrets not having taken advantage of the possibility of looking into life through his eyes.....although of course in youth one does not know enough the take the best advantage

Is Mr Campbell- Bannermann a relation of the Prime Minister (1905 -1908)? He led one of the most brilliant cabinets ever.

David said...

Read carefully. 'Distant connection' - ie not directly related, I suspect.

Kath Phillips said...

from Mrs Kath Phillips, Bedlam(early eighties)
I remember seeing David Bannerman's Brick Review, and I thought at the time it was really awful, but then I kept bumping into the bloke afterwards and he kept asking me(he did the year out at Penn Univ)if people were still talking about his Brick Review! Only to condemn it, I mused. Graham Gamble and Eleanor Zeal were both good actors, but I
thought Mary New a completely shallow, giggly airhead, with no more thought for other people's feelings than I have for Estonian declensions. Her friend Helen Richards was even more shallow, if such a thing were possible.
I am now a solicitor specializing in civil litigation, in case anyone is thinking of suing for these assessments of those two small, midgety women.
See you in court
Kath Phillips

David said...

Mrs Phillips, you're at it again! Though I'm sure Hairy and Melon, aka Signore Amorisino and Falsini, will do no more than have a good laugh at this. I too thought that the vicar's daughter was unspeakably frivolous when I first encountered her at the age of eleven, when she used to bung around the little green stones on the graves shrieking with her friend Clairey...then we were confirmed together...then I more or less kept out of her way until we met at Bedlam, and have been good friends ever since.

Believe me, the capacity to make a tableful of fellow students just laugh helplessly at...well, laughing about nothing is quite an art.

Simon Bell said...

I feel as though our paths must have crossed at some stage. Did we know each other back then? I do hope that I am not on your list of disapproved of people.

David said...

C'mon, 'Kath', who are you? It seems unlikely that you would have seen our treasured Brick Programme if you had, as you wrote on your previous post, been 'arriving as you lot were leaving' - that was in the second week of our university life. And no-one can come up with any memories. What were you in?

Mrs Kath Phillips said...

Dear David
I began university in 1980 doing mathematics/statistics, and hated it so much that I left after a term and began the following autumn doing English, which I greatly enjoyed - I could do this because I had English A at A level. Luckily my local education authority, London Barnet, were willing to write off, grant-wise, my first, accidental, term doing Maths. That is how I saw the Brick in 1980. I met Marynhelen socially and found them shallow, giggly and irritating. You say that Mary had the ability to make people laugh. So what? Where was the fine feeling, the sensitivity? None that I could see.
By the way, I noticed that you were quite an attractive lad at age ten doing your Gilbert and Sullivan(your photo). What happened afterwards? What went wrong? Things changed very dramatically indeed.
Mrs Kath Phillips(nee Smith)
ps I met a woman from the USA whom D Bannerman introduced as "my woman". Shortly afterwards I met her again; she confessed she couldn't stand the bloke but agreed to accompany him to a party because "I feel sorry for the guy;he's such a loser" or words to that effect.

David said...

No, Mrs Phillips, don't mince your words. You're a real wind-up merchant, I see. Anyway, ten's a bit young to be 'attractive', don't you think? I'm no looker, but quite happy the way I am now, thanks.

Dolly said...

You is gorgeous Mr David Nice.

David said...

Hee-haw, yee-ha!

David said...

'Mrs Phillips', we are no longer feeding the troll. Until she (or he) takes a lesson from Little Miss Manners, she's on moderation.

"Where was the fine feeling, where was the sensitivity? None that I could see' You said it.

Simon Bell said...

I wonder if any people from this time at Edinburgh University are in touch with Jenny Turner? I know that she published a novel (or perhaps several by now?) and I seem to remember her writing for the London Review of Books. I saw her briefly with Jerry Pratt, must have been 15 years ago. To be honest I always found her rather dishy but I always had the feeling that she rather fancied David (Nice). Sigh.