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Above the Stag presents

Maurice

 

Written by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham

 

Adapted from the novel by E. M. Forster

 

Directed by Tim McArthur

 

Above the Stag

 

 4 – 26 September 2010

 

 

 

 


 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Maurice is a cleverly adapted theatrical masterpiece. It follows Maurice, a naïve young boy, who, due to the lack of a father, has lacked a male role model from which to understand the masculine adult world. With the freedom of Cambridge and the revelations of Plato’s Symposium, the eponymous is led into a homosexual affair with the electric, upper class dreamboat, Clive Durham. As Maurice develops, Durham recedes, and the forlorn hero leaves education and sulks into the cold arms of ‘business’ in order to avoid his emotions. It is only when Maurice decides to try ‘cure’ his orientation with a hypnotist that the depth of his sexuality is finally explored.

Set in 1913 –  the era of the gentleman, the play not only focuses on the barriers to homosexual love, but also the class divides over which love can be stretched and torn. Durham’s class superiority paralyses his desires towards the middle class Maurice, and later, Maurice dispatches the same feigned indifference as he torments himself with his potential loss of family, income and position. The script also highlights the complete incomprehension of all those who were confronted with homosexuality at the time and the despairing inadequacy of advice and support available. In a universal context, the story tackles the confusion of love within strict external bounds, and reveals the suffering that comes from suppression and the anger of denial.

As a production, Maurice is of the finest grade: the acting is deeply emotive and the direction is otherworldly. Highlights include the playful and erotic physicality between Durham and Maurice, with deft directorial touches from Tim McArthur such as the sensual gripping of chins and aggressive stomach tickling. This physicality extends out into the space between their human presences - the characters are so well sculpted that their posture speaks even stronger than their eloquent words, to the point of indicating to the audience where a scene will lead before it’s enacted.

Extra credit must be cast on Rob Stott’s Durham, Stevie Raine’s Scudder and, of course, Adam Lilley’s Maurice. Stott expertly captures the pained idealist aristocrat who enjoys his status too much to risk fully-fledged illicit love. He expounds charisma and poise, but ultimately exudes seething doubt.  Raine plays a soft yet robust, empathy-evoking workman whose emotional intelligence is so well portrayed it’s difficult not to fall in love with him; his letter-reading soliloquy in the second act is a performance unto itself. But these characters would be isolated stars without the skill of Lilley to weave their constellation together. As the protagonist of this dramatic bildungsroman, Maurice blooms towards adulthood via a series of psychological hurdles over which Lilley jumps gracefully, yet painfully. This measured process draws deep emotional investment from the audience and ensures that the triumphant finale is deeply felt.

Fi Russell’s set is a graceful backdrop of white curtains over an all-white floor; lightly enhanced by ghostly white auxiliary furniture and props. This aesthetic inclines the viewer towards the actors, without leaving either drifting or unattended to. The set changes are tactfully integrated into the scenes via cued lighting which oils the performance and cleverly allows no moment for theatrical disillusionment. Howard Hudson’s lighting seems nearly as much the set as the set per se. Glowing warm for a bedroom sunrise, or thick and hazy for a day on the beach, its tonal charm gives perfect shading to perfect actors and duly fortifies the whole production.

The Above the Stag theatre is gaining notoriety for its gay-friendly output, but this production is evidence that this does not mean gay-only. Maurice is a treat for anyone who delights in crafted theatre. The show is proof that adaptations can be seamless, and that fringe theatre is the best place to be drawn in by magnetism of supreme acting.

 

Box Office: 0208 932 4747 / www.abovethestag.com

Above the Stag
15 Bressenden Place
London
SW1E 5DD

4 – 26 September, Tue to Sat at 7.30pm; Sun at 6pm

Tickets: £14

 

 

 

 

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