According to the opening-night curtain speech by Andy Graham – director and co-adaptor of E.M. Forster's posthumously-published novel, and artistic director of Snap Theatre Company – great theatre is about "terrific performances" and "stories about real people", both of which (he averred) we had seen in the preceding two and a half hours. If these remarks are indicative of Graham's percipience and/or truthfulness, one fears for the welfare of the burghers of Bishop's Stortford, of which he is currently mayor. From where I was sitting, "insipid and mediocre" might be a charitable verdict on the production.
Forster's novel – written in 1914, but effectively unpublishable until male homosexual activity had been legalised – was scandalous within the context of its time of writing, as containing a happy ending in which two male lovers walk off together into the sunset, so to speak. This ending is, however, more than a little contrived, and fails even to mention the "ever after" in which Maurice and Alec are presumably to live happily after Maurice has made his climactic open declaration; consequently, the narrative does not so much end as stop at a point which, although superficially neat and satisfying, immediately begs dozens of questions.
Moreover, the quaintness to modern eyes of Forsterian milieux such as Cambridge and country houses in the Welsh marches (Forster is, after all, the Merchant-Ivory film team's favourite author) is exacerbated here by supporting performances which are more often than not caricatures. Snap is primarily a theatre-in-education and young people's theatre company, yet other than the core of Maurice's individual experience, this production asks its younger audiences to find relevance in a patently alien world of antiquely expressed social values. Every so often a line crops up which is delicious n its ludicrousness: the risibility of Maurice's response when university chum Clive Durham declares his love for him – "Durham! You're an Englishman!" – is probably intentional, but I am not so sure about the protagonist's outburst when Clive transfers his attentions to Maurice's first-aid-trainee sister: "You've corrupted him with your bandages and soft talk!"
With little depth of characterisation, little pace and little to engage the attention of contemporary sensibilities, this Maurice does not have much to recommend it at all. Snap deserves respect for presenting benefit cheques to the Terrence Higgins Trust and Herts Aid, but Forster's story and Graham's treatment thereof condemn themselves to mere irrelevance.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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