Lauren Coe beautifully evokes Lucy Honeychurch’s emotional awakening in the wake of her eventful trip to Italy in an otherwise slightly-thin adaptation of E M Forster’s 1908 novel.
To witness a murder and then get kissed on a hillside is bound to change you a bit, all the more so when you are the restricted, restrained and awfully-naïve product of Edwardian England.
And so it is with Lucy.
Coe teases out the consequences on her return to England where Lucy finds herself betrothed to the self-consciously decadent bore Cecil Vyse (Charlie Anson) while finding herself increasingly drawn to George Emerson (Tom Morley), the awkward chap who’d so surprised her in Italy.
In the background is Lucy’s companion, the spinster Charlotte Bartlett delivered by an excellent Felicity Kendal with the perfect mix of stuffy regard for accepted decencies and wistful regret for all the opportunities she’s missed herself.
Jeff Rawle as George’s father adds to the emotional oomph with his attractively-empowering view of just what it is that youngsters really ought to get up to.
Put it all together and it’s a thoroughly-enjoyable second half – exactly what we needed after a first half which left you wondering quite why you were watching it. Plenty of seats were vacant after the interval.
Maybe the problem with Simon Reade’s adaptation – however well it is played – is that inevitably it glosses over the fact that novels are novels for a reason, just as plays are plays for a completely-different one.
The production makes a virtue of the simplicity of its staging, seemingly unaware that that very simplicity underlines the fact that the whole thing is a simplification of the novel. The fact that the play makes you want to re-read the novel isn’t exactly a triumph for the play.
But Coe gives us as much of Lucy’s inner life as she possibly can in a performance which isn’t upstaged by Kendal’s Bartlett – a fact which is a credit to the both of them.
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