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Review: The Slaves of Solitude, at Hampstead Theatre

03 November, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Daon Broni and Fenella Woolgar in The Slaves of Solitude

BASED on Patrick Hamilton’s novel, one of his best, Nicholas Wright’s play is set in 1943 in a boarding house in Henley-on-Thames, where bombed-out Enid Roach is escaping the Blitz and an affair with her married boss. He ended it but she is still reading manuscripts for his publishing house.

It’s an establishment where people take their meals at separate tables – though chat goes on between them they have little in common except their isolation. The residents include an elderly widow with her knitting, an archaeologist forced to retire at 60 and missing her Oxford life, a superannuated entertainer, a blustery reactionary prone to flowery archaisms and later a flirty, fun-loving German woman.

Into this environment Edna introduces Dayton Pike, an African-American lieutenant who sees her home one night when her torch conks out.

This begins as a slyly funny picture, a world where, as Amanda Walker’s archaeologist says “life is not remotely exciting,” and where daily contact requires tolerating people you don’t like, a sure recipe for things to eventually boil over.

Miss Roach may look prim and proper but she rapidly responds to Pike’s amorous advances, though it turns out Daon Broni’s heavy-drinking soldier isn’t singular in his attentions. Clive Francis’s offensive man, drunkenly lecherous, sparks a frustrated outburst with disastrous results. Fenella Woolgar beautifully captures Edna’s soul-baring honesty as well as her hurt.

Jonathan Kent directs a fine cast that includes Richard Tate as entertainer Mr Prest and Gwen Taylor as two very different natured identical twins.

Loneliness is at the core of this play, even for a young soldier, a past pupil when Edna was once a teacher. There’s a ray of hope as he tells how much the class liked her, but as he talks of plans for a big push you wonder if he will have a future.

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