The story concerns A.E. Houseman, a professor and poet who wrote the popular 'A Shropshire Lad'. The play begins in 1936 when Houseman has just died in Evelyn Nursing Home and now finds himself next to the riverbank waiting to be taken to the great 'Otherside'. However, before he goes he has visions of his younger self at college.
This dream like play has the elderly Houseman talking to his younger self. It is revealed that Houseman has a homosexual love for a college friend called 'Jackson'. However, Jackson is a heterosexual and thus unavailable. It is this obsessive love for his friend and his concealing of being a homosexual that was to make Houseman a lonely and tortured man for most of his life. At the end of the play there is an imaginary meeting with Oscar Wilde (they never met in real life), which brings home to you the parallel lives of them both. One private and denying himself fulfillment and the other flamboyant and outrageous, but both their lives dominated by the love of another man.
This is a complex and clever play that demands complete attention if you are to fully grasp what is happening. Some of the dialogue is wonderfully crafted and beautifully written by Tom Stoppard. Although there were times when I did not have a clue what was going on!
Richard Eyre has brought a great cast together for his last play as Director the National Theatre. John Wood plays the elderly 'A.E.Houseman' with great skill, flickering from painful memories to joyous ones. He is a pleasure to watch as he gives an extraordinary performance that has to be one of the best of his career. Paul Rhys, is also impressive as the young 'Houseman', a man who is full of energy and passion, yet suffering because of his love for 'Jackson'. Also, the presence of great actors Michael Bryant and John Carlisle and the rest of a talented cast enhance the play further. It is topped off at the end with a great performance by Michael Fitzgerald as a very convincing Oscar Wilde.
The play has received great reviews from the popular press. JANE EDWARDES of TIME OUT called the play an, "impressive production". NICHOLAS de JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Sir Tom Stoppard has been inspired to write the most emotionally powerful and enthralling play of his career." ANDREW ALDRIDGE of THE STAGE said the play was "An immensely enriching experience." and CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH calls the play "Marvellous".
The Invention of Love is not an easy play to follow, but it does have some of the best acting to be seen on the West End stage at the moment.