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The Slaves of Solitude
"No-one has seen an olive since war broke out." — Miss Roach
The Slaves of Solitudev
Daon Broni as Lt Pike and Fenella Woolgar as Miss Roach (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Patrick Hamilton died of alcoholism in his fifties but wrote some amazing novels based in the early twentieth century in areas like London's Earls Court, a land of large houses, often let out as single rooms where he lived. His most famous creations were Gaslight set in Edwardian times about a woman terrorised by her husband, filmed in the 1940s, and his 1929 stage play Rope, freely based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948. His novel Hangover Square was dramatised at the Finborough in 2008 with maximum period atmosphere go here.

Nicholas Wright has set Hamilton's lesser known novel The Slaves of Solitude for the stage about a woman living in war time Henley on Thames who has been bombed out of her London home. She lives in a boarding house where the dining room has been set up as tables for one, reminiscent of Rattigan's play Separate Tables. Miss Roach (Fenella Woolgar), as she is addressed by all, used to be an English teacher but now is a reader for a firm of publishers. She has met an American lieutenant, a visiting American serviceman Lt Pike (Daon Broni) an African American. In the original novel, Lt Pike was not an African American but a white man and this change was suggested by director Jonathan Kent according to the theatre programme.

Playwright Nicholas Wright liked the idea of changing Pike's race and his research seemed to suggest that these black soldiers were readily welcomed into England as members of the Allied army. I am not so sure that this was the best choice as this play is meant to focus on the single woman Enid Roach rather than relaxed, or not, English attitudes to those of a different race. Choosing Lt Pike isn't such a choice, as there aren't many men to choose from. In the play, Miss Roach only has the acquaintance of the elderly and opinionated Mr Thwaites (Clive Francis) who repels her for many reasons and a very much younger soldier Colin Mason (Tom Milligan) whom she taught at school.

Also living in the boarding house is Mr Thwaites who has a dreadful way of talking in over elaborated and unnecessarily complicated English which Miss Roach and I found very irritating. This is the way he describes the German woman Vicki Kugelmann (Lucy Cohu), "The damsel does not offend the orb of optical vision." Thwaites also offensively teases and bullies Miss Roach about politics denigrating and exaggerating her left wing views and her spinsterly status.

The play conveys the isolation of the wartime women. Miss Roach rescued Vicki Kugelman from the post office where she is being abused as a German. She meets both the American serviceman and Vicki Kugelmann in the pub where pink gins appear to be the favourite tipple for the women. It seemed to be acceptable for women to go to pubs alone.

With her unusual looks, Fenella Woolgar is outstanding as the uptight Miss Roach, a poor romantic and idealistic match for the philandering Pike, very well played by Daon Broni. Lucy Cohu too as the unsympathetic Miss Kugelmann is massively flirtatious with both Mr Thwaites and Lt Pike, as a desperate German woman for a husband and sex. Mrs Payne (Susan Porrett)'s boarding house dining room sees war time rationing food being served to the residents with the thrill of Spam fritters.

This of Hamilton's writing has less melodrama and more quiet tragedy but I didn't get a strong sense of time and place from Jonathan Kent's, on this occasion, rather hesitant direction.

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The Slaves of Solitude
Written by Nicholas Wright
Adapted from the novel by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Starring: Fenella Woolgar, Daon Broni, Lucy Cohu, Clive Francis
With: Gwen Taylor, Amanda Walker, Eimear O'Neill, Susan Porrett, Richard Tate, Tom Milligan, Rosie Kellett, Willia m Sebag-Montefiore, Guy Warren-Thomas, Kai Spellman
Design: Tim Hatley
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: Paul Groothuis
Composer: Rachel Portman
Running time: Two hours 05 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 25th November 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st October 2017 performance at Hampstead Theatre. Eton Avenue, London NW3
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