The Slaves of Solitude at Hampstead Theatre
Women’s roles in society have changed over the years, through the ups and downs in their duties and their rights. During wartime they represented the backbone of the community, covering men’s absences in the workplace, in the family and in the pubs. These last places are featured just a couple of times in The Slaves of Solitude, now at Hampstead Theatre, but their inebriating products and, in general, the accessibility of alcohol are extensive throughout the play. And it doesn’t create scandal when women are also regular clients or when the ladies mingle with handsome African American soldiers.
Jonathan Kent directs the enjoyable adaptation by Patrick Hamilton of the novel by Nicholas Wright. Finding a temporary refuge in a modest and cheap boarding house in Thames Lockden, away from bombarded London, Miss Roach (Fenella Woolgar) falls in love with Lieutenant Pike (Daon Broni). Threatening the idyllic story of the ex-teacher come the other tenants Vicki Kugelmann (Lucy Cohu) and Mr Thwaites (Clive Francis), the first because of her pleasing, amusing attitude and German origin, the second for his mocking and nosy character.
Far from the battlefield, hate and cynicism still creep into the life of many. Compassion finds its way in the end among the guests of the house, although this is too subtle to declare a happy ending, and leaves a trail of solitude and disappointment.
With more than half of the cast being women, the female characters dominate the scene. The story provides a really interesting angle of the not-so-boring life away from the front, highlighting the freedom and emancipation women gained during those terrible years for the nation, all lost and in need to be fought for in the following decades: from drinking to sexual liberation, to conducting an independent life as a single woman – although at times being judged “a spinster” for this – all while working and earning as much as men.
Opening in the middle of the action, the play doesn’t maintain the initial verve, becoming slower, occasionally lifted by some good jokes and light amusing moments. The story’s setting is beautifully curated, the show presenting elegant changes of scene: with a sliding black veil with a projected purple light, it looks like the mournful ghost of the war moves silently on the stage, ever present, but never actually shown.
Lucy Cohu entertains and positively impresses with her provocative posture and Teutonic accent. Richard Tate graciously performs a candid old man, to whom it’s more than natural to hold the moral and unsaid solitary truth beneath the candour.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Slaves of Solitude is at Hampstead Theatre from 20th October until 25th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Hampstead Theatre website here.