The Slaves of Solitude

Nicholas Wright, adapted from the novel by Patrick Hamilton

Hampstead Theatre

From 20 October 2017 to 25 November 2017

Review by Philip Fisher

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“Loneliness is a terrible thing”, a statement made more in sorrow than anger by an actor called out of retirement to The Slaves of Solitude’s central character Miss Roach, perfectly sums up the subject matter of this wartime drama.

Nicholas Wright has created a stage version of this 1947 anatomy of solitude by Patrick Hamilton, whose novels that may no longer be widely read but are still adapted for stage and screen with reasonable regularity. He was also the man who wrote plays such as Gaslight and Rope, directed on the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock.

Much of the drama is set around a boarding-house in Henley-on-Thames, which brings to mind Rattigan’s Separate Tables but also a depressing retirement home for the abandoned genteel.

This is where Fenella Woolgar’s middle-aged Enid Roach has washed up after her London flat was bombed into oblivion.

Her fellows seem more like inmates than guests, given the kind of claustrophobic atmosphere that must be inevitable when those in the latter stages of their eminently respectable lives are thrown together.

While everyone else is respectful, Mr Thwaites, played with comically odious accuracy by Clive Francis, is bitter, twisted and almost evil in his attempts to belittle the harmless residents seeking to get on with their dull lives.

The blue touch paper for a series of explosive events arrives in the form of Daon Broni playing coloured GI Lieutenant Pike.

The glamorous American takes a shine to the shy but frosty Miss Roach, offering her first the chance of a good time and then the potential for rescue from a life of insecurity and dullness.

Another lively character appears in the form of Vicki Kugelmann, a German portrayed by Lucy Cohu, who is as outgoing as her English friend is retiring, the life and soul of every party although nursing her own hidden sadness.

A pivotal scene brings together the three younger characters and Thwaites, for a late-night drinking session that must inevitably end in tears but is also remarkably insightful. As the other three laugh the night away, we witness the sad disintegration of the central figure.

Viewers’ reactions to her rejection of alcohol-fuelled hijinks will probably depend upon their own outlooks. Those who believe that the glass is always half full and life is to be enjoyed whatever the consequences will have a very different perspective from others who take a more conservative view of the world.

Having discovered in the opening scene the most significant event that takes place in the whole of the novel / play, we get back there to discover that this is not the final scene in an evening that runs to just over two hours but an opportunity to take stock before Hamilton ties up at least a few of the loose ends in what can be an enigmatic evening.

While The Slaves of Solitude is not the best plotted work that you will see this year, its ability to put the microscope onto a sad but very realistic central character, played with great feeling and intensity by Fenella Woolgar under the direction of Jonathan Kent, justifies this new adaptation and might well send those that see it back to try out the original and other works by this neglected author.