I was happy to return to the Above the Stag Theatre for the encore presentation of their hit from last season, a dramatic adaptation of E.M. Forster's MAURICE (my earlier review is somewhere on this blog).
The script has been tightened since the last run with a good ten minutes cut, which is all to the good. Poor Risley now has so little to do he should probably be cut altogether. The play now starts with Maurice at the hypnotist to be cured of his homosexuality, then flashes back to earlier scenes. This device isn't used consistently, but does give the long, episodic first act more shape. Since the crux of the play is Maurice's two relationships, first with the aristocratic Clyde Durham, then with the gamekeeper Alec Scudder, the cuts make the focus clearer. There is one crucial moment left out of the adaptation in its current form -- Clyde's insistence that his and Maurice's love be spiritual but not physical. Otherwise, this is a solid adaptation that gives us the most important and dramatic moments in the gay classic novel.
The production works as well as it does because of the performance of Adam Lilley in the title role. In some ways, he's not right for Maurice. He's too old, too smart and not convincingly a guy who loves rugby and wins boxing matches with inner city boys. Maurice can be happy with Alec at the end because he lives for his body, not his brain. He's not smart and, as he admits, always in a muddle. Nonetheless, Lilley's performance is so effective at expressing the turmoil inside Maurice, so clear in his specific reactions to other characters and situations that one believes he is Maurice Hall. This was a brilliant piece of casting and a triumph for an actor in his professional debut. Lilley is rarely off stage for the two and a half hours of the play and one wants to watch his face constantly for the quicksilver changes of expression. I hope Lilley gets a lot of work out of this.
The rest of the cast is variable. Steve Raine is fine as Alec Scudder, if also too old. He captures that difficult combination of fierce pride and trained subservience that Scudder displays when hurt by Maurice. Rob Stott is still too one-note as Clive. I never see what Maurice sees in him. The rest of the cast is good, except for the hypnotist, who is still playing his part as if he were in a nineteen-thirties horror film.
Forster's novel, MAURICE, was finally published just as I was deciding to live my life as a gay man. It's a lovely work and one of personal importance. I loved the Merchant Ivory film. The play justifies itself as a valid translation of a classic into another medium, particularly with Adam Lilley's performance.
MAURICE, by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham, from the novel by E.M. Forster. Directed by Tim McArthur. Above the Stag Theatre. September 23, 2010.