Roger Parsley & Andy Graham, from the novel by E. M. Forster
Above the Stag Theatre
'All of this is rather a bother,' says Maurice's schoolmaster as he explains the details of the birds and the bees to the fourteen year old. While the 'bother' still exists today with all its complications, this is the early 20th century and the young man in question is to find out his sexuality is not only viewed as disgusting but illegal. Coming out stories may have become a cultural trope today, but this is not only 'passion, bravery and defiance' but self-acceptance too, and Maurice has a whole society of prejudice to fight.
Presented on a bare white stage with minimal props, with a cast of eleven and all told with the cheeky irony of hindsight, Parsley and Graham's adaptation creates a funny, touching and absorbing version of Forster's novel. And it is the humour which carries this long production through, which, running for a total of three hours, can be the only criticism. While some of the actors tread a fine line too near to send up rather than stand up versions of the characters, it is the central roles of Maurice, Clive and Alec that create the beautiful pathos of this production. Rob Stott and Stevie Raine are to be highly commended but it is Adam Lilley as Maurice who unites and holds the whole piece. Without his beautifully crafted blend of subtlety, honesty and frustration the balance of this production would have fallen apart, but as it is, Lilley creates the pole around which piece revolves.
The character argues for standing up for principles and, while others around him are trapped by convention and the rules of society, Maurice finally finds himself fighting alone against the tide. With both comment on social attitudes of the past as well as class prejudice, let alone matters of sexuality, Above The Stag's production is endearing and reflective of all our sins of being English and therefore 'disinclined to accept human nature'.
Forster's controversial happy ending brings the piece to a conclusion and, under Tim McArthur's well judged direction, this is neither saccharine nor unbelievable, only a perfect motif for the changing attitudes of the future.
Staging the piece with such minimal design works perfectly for the play, with only costumes for setting and the absorbing atmosphere built by a solid cast. From funny to beautiful, all moments are achieved without undue effort and despite the far too vocal commentary of some of the audience members on the night of attendance, this is still an understated delight of a production.
If you've got three hours to spare, and a love of E.M. Forster, this production will certainly tickle your taste buds, and send you out into the night, grinning at our English absurdities.
Reviewer: Sacha Voit