Fiery passions erupt in this production, on the surface all stiff upper lip and forced gaiety, focusing on the Tabret family after Maurice’s sudden death. Bedridden for five years following a tragic accident: is he finally at peace - or put out of his misery?
A stark, angular Art Deco living room, opening onto the rear sickbay, with Maurice on view the whole time, occasionally makes for less than credible scenes. The opening may make you yearn to watch paint dry as a game of chess is put into place and props are slowly set up. Discordant music adds to the tension, yet it’s surprisingly humorous in parts despite the first Act ending in bathos, revelation followed by a farcical discussion about lunch. The ending is also somewhat cobbled together, requiring a rapid reversal of opinion and attitude.
But what a stunning cast, with three amazing roles for actresses: Beatriz Romilly, the elegantly attired brittle beauty Stella, Maurice’s wife (though Maugham maybe had more of a femme fatale in mind…); wonderfully tactless prig, nurse Wayland (Sarah Churm, a long way from Sarah Braithwaite). And Margot Leicester, astoundingly living and breathing Mrs Tabret.
By comparison, the men, such as brother Colin (David Ricardo-Pearce), are almost pale shadows, virtually literally with Maurice (Jamie De Courcey), painfully putting on a brave face. Robert Demeger is a magisterial Major Liconda, determined to see justice done, no matter what cost, while Al Nedjari is quite something as the self-centred, blustering Dr Harvester; his bullying of the well meaning Nurse Wayland engenders sympathy for her.
Maugham controversially and eloquently addresses many contemporary issues, and indeed, you could do a lot worse than blazing a trail to see this page turner of a play.