Graham Greene and Dennis Potter: not the most obvious coupling of styles. But at times one could believe that Juggling Fiends' stage production of Greene's novel The End Of The Affair had been adapted, not by Caroline Butler and director Rupert Goold, but by the late bard of the New Forest. At moments of emotional crux in this tale of a love-quadrilateral – comprising husband, wife, lover and God – speech gives way to songs by Porter, Berlin and others; once or twice it seems that the stimulation of Sarah Miles (Caroline Faber)'s erogenous zones sends her not into ecstasy but into another torch song.
It is tempting to continue to be flippant about this production – not for any reasons of quality, but because it obviates the need to address the work's subject matter directly. Greene's novel is, of course, at least as much of a theological parable as it is an examination of Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles's liaison and its convoluted aftermath, and – outside certain well-defined areas, such as mystery plays and Greek tragedy – we are unused to seeing such ideas articulated so baldly in dramatic form. In the second half of the play, when Sarah's diary reveals her reasons for breaking off the affair and details her attempts to circumvent the deal she has made with God, the bonds of earthly passion between her and Maurice become increasingly contingent upon the fluctuations of her relationship with the Divinity. The songs, and pianist Adam Cork's brooding incidental score out of which they loom, assume a shifting, numinous significance in the light of this dimension to the story.
The humorous elements lead to an Ealing-comedy-like atmosphere through the earlier phases, especially around Michael Matus as Henry Miles, an assiduous civil servant whose myopia is more than merely physical, and John Marquez's eager-to-please private investigator. Jasper Britton in the central role of Maurice is skilled at investing every word, and sometimes every single syllable, with an emotional weight, as if sighs and groans fluttered unvocalised in the air around his words; as events progress, however, his feelings must be made explicit, which leads to a possibly overwrought ending backed by an Agnus Dei. At over two and a half hours, the play demands too much of its audience, but the excess is one of intellectual rigour rather than of dramatic indulgence.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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