Finborough Theatre, London SW10
Opened 11 July, 2008

The theatrical world never lost sight of Patrick Hamilton to the extent that the literary world did; his novels might have been remembered chiefly in that 1980s televisual bowdlerisation The Charmer, but his plays Rope and Gas Light were regularly revived as well as existing in classic film versions. His bilious, merciless prose masterpiece Hangover Square (1941, here in Fidelis Morgan’s 1990 stage adaptation) now comes home to the district in which it is principally set, Earl’s Court. (The programme notes on both Hamilton and the area make extensive use of their respective Wikipedia entries.)
To be honest, the production gains little from a heightened sense of locality, but benefits greatly from the particular venue. Director Gemma Fairlie makes skilful use of the tiny Finborough space to bring out the claustrophobia of the existence of protagonist George Harvey Bone and his circle: they may venture into the West End or even down to Brighton, but all the time they remain psychically in the same postage-stamp-sized territory. Bone dreams of making a banally perfect life for himself in the (for him) impossibly exotic location of Maidenhead; as used here, it forms the missing link of bathetic southern English ideals between Basingstoke in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore and Sidcup in Pinter’s The Caretaker. But he has three strikes against him: first, the uncaring exploitation practised upon him by his beloved, failed actress Netta; second, his frequent “dead moods” in which a secondary personality takes over, obsessed with killing Netta (and, in Morgan’s adaptation, spurred on by a second, internal Netta); third, the boozy indulgence which is all he and his tiny circle seem to exist for.
Matthew Flynn’s Bone stumbles or trudges, glassy-eyed, from one inebriation to the next, between alcoholic episodes and psychopathic ones, between Caroline Faber’s and Clare Calbraith’s portrayals of Netta (switching roles several times between exterior and interior Netta). Even though Netta’s other close friend Peter (played urbanely by Gyuri Sarossy) is a British Fascist, what is conspicuous is how little impression the slide to war through 1939 makes upon these characters; they are stupefied to it. Fairlie knows not to labour the parallels between individuals and an entire subculture sleepwalking towards their extinctions; the sense of self-destruction comes over potently enough of itself.
 Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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