‘Stop being shocked and attend to your own happiness’. The closing lines of this production provided thought-provoking advice for how we should all live our lives.
Set in 1911, ‘Maurice’ is a commentary on the gay experience over a century ago. At the heart of this story is the evolving relationship between Maurice Hall, played by Daniel McNamee and Clive Durham, played by Oliver Tanner, in a dorm room at Cambridge University. Despite this production being set over 100 years ago, sat in the Michael Pilch studio on an October evening in 2022, it couldn’t feel more relevant. The audience is taken on an emotional journey of self-exploration as themes of class, sexuality and belonging are navigated, a journey many of us can relate to in our own university experiences. Scenes of hypnotherapy and homosexuality being treated as a disease also provide a stark reminder that for many across the world, this story is their present.
The chemistry between McNamee and Tanner shines through as you believe from the very start the care they have for one another. The pair lay out a beautiful vulnerability as they navigate trust, intimacy, playfulness and tension creating a true-to-life narrative of what it means to love someone. We watch the character of Maurice develop from a naive teenager, confused as he is exposed to new ideas to finally having the confidence to be himself. Subtle changes in the tone and body language of McNamee echo the variety and changing relationships his character has with the people around him. Most notable is the contrast between the playfulness displayed as he explores new ideas with Clive and how this contrasts to the monotone conversation with his mother (played by Sarah Hussan) as these same ideas conflict with family traditions. Tanner also takes us on a journey conveying throughout the anguish at conforming to society’s expectation of him as the male heir to an estate.
Although a fairly large cast, each member brings a memorable and impactful performance in their given characters. Joy radiates from Nora Baker as she provides light comic relief as Ada Hall. Siddhant Dhingra gives a flamboyant performance as Risley, one of Clive Durham’s friends and encapsulates the disdain of wider society through his character Dr Barry. Also playing a split role is Sarah Hussain who gives a witty display as Mr Ducie in contrast to a more pared-back performance of Mrs Hall, where through a few words we catch a glimpse of a conflicting narrative of love, fear and disdain. Anne Woods (played by Rani Martin) is an interesting character who we are introduced to as the story takes an unexpected turn just as Clive and Maurice’s relationship appears to be blossoming. Unaware of their past relationship, Martin lives up to the challenge of making us believe Ann is ignorant of the unfolding story between the two.
The relatability of this story is apparent from the muffled laughter following Clive’s line “I’ll bring my books” when planning a fun day out, to the cry of Maurice that Cambridge was “never meant for the suburban classes” echoing the imposter syndrome many of us feel in Oxford.
Bright clinical lighting marks the transition to the therapist’s office where we meet Mrs Lasker-Jones, played by Juliette Imbert. The distress of Maurice is contrasted by the cold and to-the-point questions Mrs Lasker-Jones poses which act as narration for the following action. Imbert gives an excellent performance, slowly revealing the complexity of her character. Her advice to Maurice to move to France where homosexuality is no longer illegal leaves you confused about how you should feel towards her, as she practices convserion therapy but you begin to wonder whether this is a facade, enabling her to give advice to protect homosexual men in a society that would forbid it.
The production ends almost how it starts as we witness a blossoming relationship between Maurice and Alec Scudder, Clive’s servant. On opening night the role of Scudder was played by director Andrew Raynes, who gave an excellent performance. Scudder is in the background of many scenes, silent at work as action carries on, reflecting the unequal dynamic between the classes. Raynes gives a passionate performance as Scudder, displaying care and intimacy as well as anger at the freedom Maurice risks taking away. At its conclusion, we witness a heated discussion between Maurice and Clive with clever staging getting ever distant from the places where intimacy was displayed showing the declining relationship between the pair. Maurice gives a rousing speech which is followed by a tight embrace with Scudder, a poignant ending that leaves you wanting more.
The professionalism displayed by both cast and crew deserves applause. The play jumps around various times yet these flashbacks and forwards in time are done seamlessly with light, sound, set and action all converging perfectly to create an effortless transition from one scene to the next, with Mitra Strainsbury’s versatile set design works as a college room, therapist’s office, living room and bedroom whilst thrust staging immerses the audience.
Happier Production’s of ‘Maurice’ is a thought-provoking, witty and emotional piece that leaves you thinking for many days after you’ve seen it. Complex themes are handled with sensitivity and as an audience member, you truly feel part of the story. It is the perfect choice for the start of term with the potential for all of us to find a piece of ourselves in ‘Maurice’.