My friend John saw “Room With A View” at Richmond Theatre last night and has done the following review:-
I went to Richmond Theatre last night to see Simon Read’s adaptation of E M Forster’s Novel for the stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the production and would gladly go again. To translate any novel for the stage is a challenge simply because novels are written to read and consequently they are intimate between writer and reader. Plays are to be performed in public before a live audience. So the challenge is how to create a drama from the novel without losing the richness and capaciousness that only the novel can encompass. Well the first thing to say is that the director Adrian Noble has squared the circle. He has shaped Simon Read’s adaptation into a most enjoyable evening in the theatre. His trick lies in Paul Willis’s quite brilliant stage sets. The sets use backdrops, screens, lighting and sound effects to switch the action between Florence and Surrey, interiors and exteriors, bedroom and dining room, so that we are constantly having our point of view altered. Henry James famously said that the novel is like a house with many windows from each of which we derive a different view onto the world. This is exactly what Adrian Noble and his team of brilliant designers have created with a no doubt rather limited budget. It is a very impressive feat of stage craft. I particularly enjoyed the storm scene in which the cast recreated Renoir’s painting “The Umbrellas”. Delightful.
The key line in Simon Reade’s redaction is “love is truth”. And surely he is right to headline that wonderful Keatsian phrase because it is the heart of Forster’s novel. The novel sets up an Edwardian world of class and gender divisions both stifling and absurd. The heroine Lucy Honeychurch (Lauren Coe) is stuck in this web of nonsense. She is chaperoned by Charlotte Bartlett (Felicity Kendall) on the grand tour in Florence. In the hotel they meet Mr Emerson (Jeff Rawle) a radical socialist ( HG Wells?) and his son George Emerson (Tom Morley) a Lawrentian Nietzsche-reading depressed young man. The central action of the play turns on Lucy and Tom crossing class and gender boundaries acting out Forster’s rallying cry “Only Connect” and being true to themselves because “Love is Truth”. It’s a wonderful love story all the more powerful for the way it breaks through the stupid hypocrisies and conventions of Edwardian Britain. Sadly the play remains as relevant today as it was in 1910 when Forster wrote his novel. We still live within class and gender codes which prevent so many from finding themselves or loving who they choose to love, rather than who they not ought to love.
Fans of Felicity Kendall will have to fight to get a ticket. She gives a wonderful performance as a kind of Miss Havisham in reverse. She enables Lucy to find love as she guides her to George. She is most poignant in her portrayal of Charlotte Bartlett the woman who, convention bound, didn’t live for love and ended up lonely and regretful. She is both witty and solicitous in her care of Lucy. It’s a very moving evocation of female regret. A subtle and understated dramatisation of the heavy price women pay for conventionality and hypocrisy.
Apart from the line “Oh yes one wants a man with a whip”, the comic highlight of the evening is the bathing scene in which George, Mr Beebe (Simon Jones) and Freddy Honeychurch ( Jack Loxton) run around naked, Mr Beebe in his dog collar, jumping and cavorting like water nymphs. It is side splitting stuff. Worth the entrance fee alone.
There is much more to savour, for example Joanne Pearce as the new woman novelist Eleanor Lavish smoking, walking around Florence as a Flaneur, discarding her Baedeker, making notes for her novel and uttering Wildean aphorisms such as “You will never repent of a little civility to your inferiors. That is true democracy. “ Or Charlie Anson’s brilliant portrayal of a nineties decadent Cecil Vyse, in some ways the most brilliant actorly performance of the evening. Quite spell-binding in my view.
But don’t take my view, take your own seat with a view, any night this week at Richmond Theatre on Richmond Green and make your own mind up.