Somerset Maugham is scarcely cutting edge, yet this impassioned 1929 drama about a mercy killing seems oddly topical given ongoing preoccupation with how and when we die.
Beatriz Romilly and Robert Demeger in The Sacred Flame at the Rose Theatre, Kingston Photo: Mark Douet
In a clever counterpoint to the play’s naturally old-fashioned structure and language, director Matthew Dunster and his designer Anna Fleischle have used a fiercely modernist setting, along with contemporary incidental music. It shouldn’t work but it does.
Maugham’s unusual conceit is to kill off his main character, a convivial pilot crippled in a flying accident, half way through the first half. His adoring nurse, distraught at his demise, points an accusing finger at the pretty young wife to whom he was devoted.
What follows is a rather plodding ensemble narrative sometimes teetering on the brink of a mechanical, Agatha Christie-like whodunit. But Maugham was clearly more concerned with the moral ambiguity of the situation as to who did for the bedridden pilot, and I found the denouement, though predictable, to be genuinely moving.