The Slaves of Solitude at Hampstead Theatre, London
PATRICK HAMILTON may be the greatest English writer you have never heard of but that might be about to change.
His novel The Slaves of Solitude — which he reportedly wrote while drinking three bottles of whisky a day — has been adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright and that could help revive interest in his work.
It is 1943 and, having lost her home in London to the blitz, Miss Roach has come to live in a boarding house in Henley-on-Thames.
There, Lieutenant Dayton Pike (Daon Broni), a black US GI stationed in the town, takes his meals and an uneasy relationship soon develops between the two. But Miss Roach cannot, or will not, abandon her very English reserve.
Matters are compounded when Vicki Kugelmann, a German woman who’s lived in England for 14 years, moves in and soon draws the attention of Pike. She has none of Miss Roach’s reserve and the tension between the three provides the focus of the first act.
As in the novel, the play explores the English attitude to foreigners during a period of conflict, a theme which certainly resonates at a time of fraught relations with the rest of Europe.
Most of the action takes place in the Rising Sun pub and the boarding house dining room, where other residents include the odious Mr Thwaites, who you sense would have strongly approved of Henley’s future MP Boris Johnson.
If the second act does not quite live up to the promise of the first, that’s because the adaptation moves away from the plot of the novel towards the end. Consequently, the play’s final words: “God help us, God help all of us, every one, all of us,” do not have the same sense of despair as they do at the conclusion of Hamilton’s book.
There are excellent performances from all of the cast, with Fenella Woolgar particularly fine as Miss Roach. She’s on stage virtually throughout and tellingly conveys her thoughts on the other characters with subtle changes of facial expression.
Great credit must also go to Tim Hatley, whose set makes a significant contribution to the success of a production ably directed by Jonathan Kent.
A forceful work and an excellent adaptation of what is an undeservedly neglected book.