The Sacred Flame by Somerset Maugham at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 24. Review by ANGELA SINGER.
I AM sorry to say that this flame has gone out.
There is little life in this production. Apart from weak flickers here and there, it lacks passion, artistry, naturalness, humour and timing. The staging is frozen and the delivery is so wooden that at points is like when Ambridge puts on a village play and the Archers cast Act people Acting. Mostly it is excruciating.
In 1928, Maugham had two points to make: Sex is a natural need like hunger and thirst and sometimes, it can be kinder to allow someone to die.
More than 80 years on, the debate about assisted suicide – and whether all life is sacred - is still very much alive. Though these days, we do not expect someone who has lost the use of their legs to be bedridden. We expect them to be Olympic athletes.
A hero of The First World War, who crashed a plane he was testing, is now disabled from the waist down. He lives with three women: his beautiful young wife, his devoted mother and his caring nurse. He generously encourages his handsome brother to go out with his wife –to the opera they saw on the night they became engaged.
But this is too harrowing for him. He breaks down at the end of the evening when she returns. They weep together. The following morning he is found dead. The play then becomes a murder mystery – except that by the interval it is pretty clear who has done it and why.
There is some wit in the play but most of those lines are thrown away. Apart from a little humour in the closing scene – supplied nicely by Margot Leicester who plays the mother, Mrs Tabret, the play is tedious. Unless it is going to be re-written with flair and presented by a cast with verve, it is better to leave it for people to read in the library.