Hamptstead Theatre 20 Ocotber - 25 November 2017
Writer: Patrick Hamilton
Adapted by: Nicholas Wright
Director: Jonathan Kent
Cast: Miss Roach - Fenella Woolgar; Fraulein Kugelmann - Lucy Cohu; Lieutenant Dayton Pike - Daon Broni
Photographs: Manuel Harlan
Restrained and conscientious in manner and dress, Fenella Woolgar is made for the part of Miss Roach in this stage adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s wartime novel. As expected of all well-bred women approaching middle age at the time, she is a people-pleaser. At once up-tight and retiring, she fits in with the quirky but respectable, elderly lodgers at her boarding house outside London, far enough away from the blitz.
The war happens somewhere far off, but deeply affects the lives of the characters. They are enslaved by it and suffer its restrictions in all sorts of ways, fearing the full moon that lights up the Thames like an arrow pointing enemy bombers directly to London.
But something is missing in Miss Roach’s prim, safe life among lonely old people. She is relentlessly teased by Mr Thwaites who, given the war, cannot agree with her tolerance towards foreigners until he is introduced to Miss Roach’s friend, the brazen and flirtatious Fraulein Kugelmann, played with suitable recklessness and knowing by Lucy Cohu. Such a hedonist embarrasses Miss Roach, but she is too well-mannered to break off the forced friendship. Moreover, Miss Roach’s moral high-ground and restraint is fully tested when she embarks on an affair with an American lieutenant (delivered with unassuming insouciance by Daon Broni) who turns out to be nothing more than a lost, charming drunk and a womaniser. Soon enough, the consequences of these relationships spiral out of control.
“Like Miss Roach, this is a neat, impeccable drama cleverly adapted by Nicholas Wright and skilfully aided and abetted by Jonathan Kent (Director/formerly of the Almeida). Everything about the play is smartly planned and performed including the changing of sets – a feat to marvel.”
If anything, it is the mood of the play that can be too much to bear: the dreary suburbs in a time of rations and making-do; the boring, droll lives of the boarding house residents living out their twilight years; the feeling of being unloved and thrown upon yourself. That coupled with the unleashing of pent-up emotions is almost too much to endure. But, Nicholas Wright’s adaptation is so well-conceived, that the play transcends the dull and grey of wartime lodgings and the wretchedness of everyone's lives with moments of great humour, and insight into the human condition of solitude.