For the second time this week, a gay play in a pub theatre, and after the last one I was bound to approach it with some trepidation. At least Roger Parsley and Andy Graham's Maurice could be expected to have a decent story, since it's an adaptation of E.M. Forster's posthumously-published novel, written in 1914. Maurice Hall grows up feeling different from the other boys, and when he gets to Cambridge his friend Clive Durham is the one who gets him to accept his sexuality. But as time goes on Durham is willing to sacrifice his feelings for a "normal" life and a family, and Maurice is left alone until (long before Lady Chatterley) he gets his very own gamekeeper to play with, Scudder.
The current production, directed by Tim McArthur, is actually pretty strong. Unfortunately the weak link is in much of the acting, which tends to be rather wooden. Some of this is a side-effect of the material - the story takes place in an upper-class, highly mannered Edwardian world that only the BBC and Merchant Ivory seem capable of getting away with. But this doesn't excuse everything - Leanne Masterton as Maurice's mother is the main offender in that special acting style that involves holding one facial expression until required to change it by the dialogue. Adam Lilley in the title role has moments of awkwardness as well as a tendency to roll his eyes as a default way of showing any kind of emotion, but he's watchable enough and is markedly better in the second act, perhaps helped by having better chemistry with Stevie Raine, who as Scudder gives the strongest, most natural performance of the night. And because this is a gay love story that's very racy by 1914 standards, there's afrom Lilley and Raine.
Considering there's some wobbly acting going on it says a lot for the quality of the writing and direction that the play manages to stay watchable regardless (and not in a car-crash way.) It's not a short play, coming in at a little under 3 hours, but it rarely drags so while the production as a whole doesn't quite come off, it's a good effort overall.
Maurice by E.M. Forster, adapted by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham, is booking until the 3rd of April at the Above The Stag Theatre.