In the 1960s, EM Forster saw little reason to publish his 1914 novel Maurice, as its themes and writing seemed dated. Published posthumously, it was adapted for the screen in 1987, providing an early film role for Hugh Grant, with James Wilby in the title role.
The passing of time may have blinded Forster to the merits of his own novel, but it’s message of social and self-acceptance resonates today. The team at Above The Stag first produced a version for the stage in 2010, but as part of the opening season in its new venue, Wilby himself revisits the story, this time as director.
Wilby’s direction comes with an intuitive understanding not only of the novel, but also of the society in which Maurice lived and worked. The story is as much about class as it is about homosexuality and Wilby draws out superlative performances that capture the elegance and inscrutability of the age.
Max Keeble’s affable, haughty Durham sets the tone for the oddly sexless relationship with Tom Joyner’s Maurice, whereas Leo Turner’s Scudder injects passion and plain speaking. In an exciting debut performance Joyner exposes the beating heart of this play, as the grown man, struggling to adjust to a world that neither accepts nor understands him. It’s a struggle that remains to this day and explains the enduring popularity of Forster’s work.
Designer David Shield’s clever set of gothic pillars shifts easily to suggest everything from the spires of Cambridge to the disrepair of Penge, while music director David Bahanovich’s delicate scoring lends a sense yearning to proceedings.