Christopher Isherwood’s acclaimed novel comes to life in a new form after its praised film adaptation. Guillermo Názara tells us his vision about this new play by Simon Reade, exploring the weaknesses of a brilliant mind succumbing to the needs of the heart.
To feel, rather to think. For many, the opposite of what society is all about. To be a person means to be rational. And to be rational means to set the traps of sentiments aside. Some learn to do it, some others try but they just can’t. But those who manage to, either because life has forced them, either because they were born with it, are often seen as the ones most prone to success. And though success (to the eyes of others) they may achieve, sooner or later they come to terms with the appalling realisation that lurked underneath from the very beginning: the loss of their actual humanity.
A Single Man is, to some point, an exploration of the above – both forward and in reverse. Set in 1960s, this new stage adaptation of Isherwood’s novel deals with a man’s inner incarceration when uselessly struggling to abide by the conventions of a people who would not want his true self in the first place. Adapted by Simon Reade, the play offers an interesting theme with huge potential to be taken advantage of: a well respected man sentenced to an existence of secrecy and solitude – simply because others have decided what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s acceptable and what should be despised.
To anyone familiar with Isherwood’s production (previous titles include Goodbye To Berlin -the basis for the musical Cabaret-), the deep dive into sexuality and the breaking of social rules as a main topic may not come as a surprise. However, that’s not precisely the case in this version. Not because it’s not encompassed (after all, it’s what the plot is really about and even what the title suggests), but the expected eroticism in a text about closeted homosexuality is, sadly, not there through a great share of the performance. Yes, there is some more palpalble by the end of second act,. and the chemistry between Theo Fraser Steele as the lead and Miles Molan as Jim is obvious. But the show fails to infect us with the feelings of guilty attraction the characters are supposed to experience – at least not until it reaches its final scenes.
Though featuring some interesting dialogue and reflective observations about life’s standards, several of the most stimulating themes are just passed by, thus affecting a pace that, if restructured and reorganised as for its contents, it could actually be excellent. It may be faithful to the book (about that I won’t comment), but every work of fiction is different specially when it changes its media. Some things work on both and some others don’t. If a performance can’t immerse us enough into the world of, in this case, frustration and suffering the hero is in, then there’s no doubt that some sort of makeover is a must.
Directed by Philip Wilson, the production’s visuals (credit to Caitlin Abbott) may probably be its highest point, as the set design effectively transports us not only to the story’s universe but, in some evocative way, to the main character’s state of mind. In addition, the cast can feel proud of some very compelling acting, predominantly represented by Molan and Freddie Gaminara (the latter playing several small parts that still get to make an impression). Steele, however, though able to project the role’s shy and quiet personality, does not completely make it as realistic as it should feel – particularly during the start of the performance.
Not every piece of art can be perfect nor can our opinion about it be the same – even when the mob has spoken. But surely we can all agree that although fiction has the ability to make us meditate and maybe improve ourselves (and the rest), its true reason for existence (and thus how to spot a triumph) is taking us through sensations. Though A Single Man offers that chance in small doses, it still looks as if some important revision is needed to get rid of its analytic approach – so it finally allows us to feel, rather to think.
A Single Man plays at London’s Park Theatre until 26 November. Tickets are available on the following link.