ADC Theatre Mainshow – 7.45pm Tues 16th-Sat 20th February 2010
Just before the lights fade out at the end of the ADC’s production of The Invention of Love, we are presented one last time with Housman standing in the solitary spotlight: ‘how lucky to find myself standing on this empty shore’, he serenely asserts, ‘with the indifferent waters at my feet’. The conclusion of this production captures the oddly melancholic mood that pervades Stoppard’s play, one charting the life of the poet and scholar A. E. Housman. It explores his love of both classical scholarship and his friend Moses Jackson, the latter is pointedly set against the historical backdrop of the Oscar Wilde trials.
Yet this production also brings out the play’s comedy, particularly in the stuffy accents of the Oxford academics and their professed abhorrence of ‘spooniness’ (possibly one of the best euphemisms for homosexuality ever).
In a play dominated by lengthy academic conversations, the possibility of waning audience attention is dangerously ever-present. In this production, however, potentially snooze-inducing dialogues were kept interesting in numerous ways: the expressive hand-gesturing of Pollard (James Frecknall); the British drawl of Pater (James Hancock-Evans) with its wonderful rolling ‘r’; the sheer number of ruffles adorning the shirt of Wilde (Amrou Al-Kadhi).
Varied use of stage space also kept the audience focused: whilst Old Housman (Joshua Stamp-Simon) delivered some of his soliloquies without once shifting/rooted in from the glare of the spotlight, others – notably, at the conclusion of Act One – were accompanied by constant movement across stage.
Backlighting, frequently diverting audience attention to different parts of the stage also made the play attention-grabbing even at its slowest moments.
Praising individual performances amongst such a strong cast is tricky. Joshua Stamp-Simon as Old Housman certainly stands out, delivering his lines and jokes at high-speed but always audibly and with intended effect – no mean feat given that many of them are in Latin or Greek.
Perhaps the only performance with room for improvement was that of Amrou Al-Kadhi, who played Wilde as a pretentious, shallow fop. Such characterisation, humorous but two-dimensional, fails to capture the side of Wilde that Stoppard’s play implicitly invites us to contrast with Housman, favouring the latter’s ‘love that dare not speak its name’ over Wilde the rebel’s passionate defiance of cultural conventions.
Overall, however, the cast is extremely impressive, the lighting effects are excellent, and the relationship dynamics – especially between Old Housman and Young Housman (Oskar McCarthy) – are convincing. Whether you are a Stoppard fan or not this production is definitely worth seeing.