Hampstead Theatre Autumn 2017
The little lives and little tragedies of little people can be made highly dramatic, as Chekhov showed us more than a century ago. Or they can remain small and uninvolving, like the background action in a soap opera.
The Slaves Of Solitude strives for the first of those, but too rarely rises above the second.
A contemporary of Terrence Rattigan (whose name will recur in this review), Patrick Hamilton is best known for his stage thrillers Rope and Gaslight. But he also wrote novels, and Nicholas Wright has adapted his wartime story for the theatre.
A thirty-something woman has fled from the Blitz to the sort of cheap permanent-resident hotel Rattigan immortalized in Separate Tables, and indeed most of the action here takes place in the dining room.
She has a brief romance with an American soldier, but he is less stable than she and less committed emotionally. There are also another woman who may be a romantic rival, and the other residents, each with their own secrets.
By play's end almost everyone is worse off than at the beginning, and the only moral offered is that perhaps no one ought to look for happiness in wartime.
It is not just the external resemblance to Separate Tables that virtually forces comparison to Rattigan.
Rattigan had two dominant themes in his work, both of which are invoked here – that small events can be felt as large in small lives and therefore deserve respect, and that the English curse of repressing emotions in the name of good taste leaves them unprepared for real emotions when they experience them.
Both of these are raised in The Slaves Of Solitude, but neither is really dramatised. The woman at the centre of the play has a thwarted romance and is badly shaken by it, but she carries on, as do most of the other characters.
And, although a couple of figures accuse her of being repressed and prudish, we see the opposite, a passionate woman embracing passion when it is offered and only closing up afterwards to retain some dignity.
So we too rarely care enough about her heartbreak, or the soldier's alcoholic fecklessness, or the immigrant's insecurity, or even the one secondary character who dies.
There is more honest pathos in the throw-away revelation that the least significant of the hotel's residents, a retired Oxford scholar, spends Christmas alone because all her former colleagues have just forgotten her, than in most of the rest of the play.
Director Jonathan Kent and the cast led by Fenella Woolgar treat the text with absolute respect and commitment.
They just can't make it all seem to matter.
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Review - Slaves of Solitude - Hampstead Theatre 2017