I ENJOY the occasional chance to review plays after my national and regional colleagues, but I don’t read their thoughts before seeing the play.
So, after a wonderful night at Bath Theatre Royal with Simon Reade’s adaptation of EM Forster’s A Room With a View, directed by Adrian Noble and designed by Paul Willis, I was amused to discover how many mistook the Bath audience’s reaction for a shortcoming in the production.
You can’t stop regulars at the beautiful chocolate box theatre from gasping at rude words, tittering at nudity and applauding a television star … that’s just how it is.
The production is touring until early December, and so Paul Willis’s set must adapt to different stages. He uses lofty shutters, opening to reveal projected backdrops of Florence, rural Italy, the South Downs etc, with atmospheric lighting by Tim Mitchell that intensifies heat, threatening clouds, idyllic British afternoons, and more.
Mr Reade has been criticised for taking cousin Charlotte, a secondary character in the book, and putting her centre stage for Felicity Kendal to play. Well, she IS undoubtedly the biggest name in the cast, and as such the most recognisable face on stage. But here she resists her sometimes mannered style, embodying the fluster and good intentions of the companion chosen for Lucy Honeychurch’s first journey abroad.
As the story of Lucy’s expectations and determination unfolds, the characters swirl on and off the set (sometimes in the style of a Jack Vettriano painting).
For those unfamiliar with the novel, and the Ruth Prawer Jhabvala screenplay for the 1985 Merchant Ivory film, Lucy (Lauren Coe in a spirited and charming performance) is sent to Florence with her cousin (Charlotte). In the pensione, she meets a flamboyant English novelist, family friend the Rev Arthur Beebe (Simon Jones), the unpleasant Rev Eager and the widowed Mr Emerson and his son George (well played by Tom Morley).
After a series of dramatic incidents unsuspected in Surrey, Lucy and Charlotte leave for Rome, where they stay with the Vyses. Returning to England, the aesthetic, chilly Cecil Vyse proposes marriage to Lucy for the third time, and is accepted.
The Emersons come to live in an estate cottage, and Lucy realises her mistake, thanks to a moving speech by Mr Emerson (an unusually convincing reading of the role by Jeff Rawle) and the plotting of her cousin.
It ends back in Italy.
We are not all academic students of EM Forster, and we were here to see a play. This is a very good one, encapsulating the ideas of both the Grand Tour, the Romance of Italy and the repressions of Surrey.
A Room with a Veiw is at Bath until 8th October, and the tour continues to Richmond, Guildford, Norwich, Cambridge and Chichester.
Photographs by Nobby Clark