Review - The Slaves of Solitude at the Hampstead Theatre
There's both a Chekhovian sadness and a very British 'Brief Encounter' air about The Slaves of Solitude, Nicholas Wright's new play based on Patrick Hamilton's 1947 novel set in wartime Britain.
In its closing moments, Miss Roach - the lonely spinster at the heart of the action - says wistfully, "There's so much more to come. There'll be more love, more hate, more sad farewells, more sudden deaths. God help us, every one."
The play that has preceded it is full of all of those events, yet it also feels like nothing much happens. Jonathan Kent's production is so layered in atmosphere that it feels driven by mood, not action, as the residents of a guest house, who've been evacuated from London during the Blitz to Henley-on-Thames, meet, bicker and gossip in the dining room night after night.
Its uneasy, repetitive certainties are upended, however, by the arrival of two newcomers: a black US serviceman with whom Miss Roach begins a tentative relationship, and a German woman Vicki Kugelmann whom she befriends.
The production, staged on Tim Hatley's sets which dissolve between different locations with cinematic fluidity, has a superb ensemble cast of 12 actors, led by the touching Fenella Woolgar as Miss Roach and with scene-stealing performances from her adversaries, Clive Francis as Mr Thwaites and Lucy Cohu as Vicki Kugelmann.
North London's Hampstead Theatre is fighting for its relevance in a changing London theatre scene, and the programme for the show aggressively touts its achievements including growth in box office and fundraising while its Arts Council grant was slashed by 14% in the last round of funding cuts. This safe, cosy choice will likely maintain that trajectory, but not challenge its audiences unduly.