Kendal is mesmerising in Forster’s Room with a View but performance felt hurried

Felicity Kendal in a Room with a View

Felicity Kendal in a Room with a View - Credit: Archant

Felicity Kendal did somewhat steal the show in this new version of A Room with a View, directed by Adrian Noble, at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Kendal plays Charlotte Bartlett, who has been tasked with accompanying her cousin, Lucy Honeychurch (Lauren Coe), to Florence on a trip that sees the younger of the two seeking out new experiences that open up some life-changing possibilities.

Kendal is quite mesmerising as the more worldly wise and humorous of the pair, whereas it is difficult to empathise with the more petulant and immature Lucy. So many of the characters lacked depth and this seemed partly due to the fast past of the performance.

Simon Reade’s adaptation of EM Forster’s 1908 novel felt hurried, particularly the first half. That may, of course, have been Reade’s intention, but the galloping speed gave us a stilted performance that lacked some of the charm and gracefulness of Forster’s take on an upper-middle class Edwardian world where high tea, good manners and breeding were everything. Lucy is thrown into turmoil after she finds herself alone in a back street in Florence and witnesses a murder. She faints, but is rescued and ends up being kissed by George Emerson (Tom Morley) who is staying at the same hotel as her and her cousin. The scenes with Lucy and George fail to evoke any passion and we don’t really get to understand just how much of a quandary this poses for Lucy whose life, until now, has been pretty much mapped out and confined by the times in which she lives. But her experiences have awakened something in her and for the first time she realises that life outside her home comforts can be brutal, but also exciting.

The second half, however, which is set in Surrey after Charlotte and Lucy return home, delivers a good dose of the expected stiffing social restraint of the time, along with some farcical exchanges and even a few laughs. Lucy is now engaged to Cecil Vyse (Charlie Anson) but learns that George Emerson and his father are moving in close by. She is now torn between doing what is expected of her and following her heart. The scene where George, Lucy’s brother Freddy (Jack Loxton) and the Rev Cuthbert Eager (David Killick) are caught swimming naked in the river is hilarious and Killick, in particular, is very funny.

Anson and Jeff Rawle, as George’s father, put in good performances, but overall Reade seems to have strayed too far from what Forster originally intended.