Rachel Tackley, Director of the English Touring Theatre tells us, in the programme of The Sacred Flame, that she and Director Matthew Dunster, both felt the time was right to give the little performed play a good dusting down. Unfortunately, following the dusting a good polish is still needed.
W. Somerset Maugham’s play revolves around Maurice Tabret (Jamie De Courcey), who had a serious accident several years ago is now bed ridden and looked after by Nurse Wayland (Sarah Churm). Still very much in love with his wife Stella (Beatriz Romilly) he refuses to go to bed until she returns from the opera with his brother. However, by the following morning he has died unexpectedly and then accusations start about the possibility of him being murdered.
Margot Leicester, as Mrs. Tabret, holds the production together and her performance is leagues ahead of the rest of the cast, who appear very stilted and awkward at times. But full credit must also be to Jamie De Courcey, who has to lie propped up in the hospital bed motionless for nearly two hours in full view (including the interval) of the audience, after Maurice dies.
However, Al Nedjari, as Dr. Harvester, seems very uncomfortable in his role, not helped by either the set or director. The very striking, but stark, set by Anna Fleischle, does help proceedings and at times the direction is just odd. Especially in Act 1 when we have characters having what should be fairly intimate conversations, but holding them across almost the full width of the stage. The only seating being four stackable chairs. Also at the start of each act we have the Stage Manager (and some cast members) on stage setting the furniture. We have to sit and watch as the hospital bed is moved in to position and a chess board is set out, then immediately reset to allow the characters to be in the middle of a match. Several electric fans are brought on in Act 2 for no apparent reason, their noise being distracting when trying to listen to the actors.
This production does have the makings of a great play and Leicester and De Courcey make the production work, but so much more is achievable.