THE SACRED FLAME
by W Somerset Maugham.
English Touring Theatre Tour to 24 November 2012.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 October at Oxford Playhouse.
Wrong director, wrong play.
This production, unusually for English Touring Theatre, is misconceived. A play of interest though not of indestructible classical status is given into the hands of a director (also playwright and actor) who seems out of sympathy with the structure, tone and style of Somerset Maugham’s 1929 drama, which touches on euthanasia , as Maurice Tabret lies incapacitated from an incurable injury received not during the war, but in a flying accident. His wife seems devoted but has independent feelings as the years pass, while his nurse develops a passion for her patient.
When he dies the play moves into the realms of both Agatha Christie and Henrik Ibsen. The casting of Margot Leicester as Maurice’s mother brings a thrill as she moves from being an affable bystander to speaking what she feels, emerging as a sister to Helena Alving in Ibsen’s Ghosts, a role Leicester played a couple of years ago at Bolton Octagon.
That was a distinguished performance in an uneven production; this is a luminous performance in a vulgarly inapposite one. Leicester’s truthful delving into Mrs Tabret’s long-bred, deeply-felt thoughts, with her sympathetic manner, creates a rare, intense involvement on a stage largely filled with generalised emotion expressed in stilted speaking.
Experienced actor Robert Demeger brings control and dignity to his role of family friend, who eventually fits with the Ghosts connections, but otherwise performances veer between uninspired technical competence and unperceptive emotionalism.
These are probably decent actors ill-directed, something at one with the fussy setting-up of furniture at the beginning of each half, as the audience sits watching, stupefied, with an invalid who talks of going to bed while already being in bed, whose serious injuries are belied by the way he can shuffle around, with pointless underscoring sounds and setting, costumes and music over a generation in advance of the action.
It may have been the director wished to provide a potent counterpoint; all he’s done is to make a hash of things, and would have been better off ensuring his sightlines were right, or declining to undertake a piece in which he evidently has no trust.
Nurse Wayland: Sarah Churm.
Maurice Tabret: Jamie De Courcey.
Major Liconda: Robert Demeger.
Alice: Katrina Innes.
Mrs Tabret: Margot Leicester.
Dr Harvester: Al Nedjari.
Colin Tabret: David Ricardo-Pearce.
Stella Tabret: Beatriz Romilly.
Director: Matthew Dunster.
Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Assistant director: Tess Seddon.