Theatre Review - A Single Man

SET in 1960s California, Simon Reade’s new adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man is beautifully staged. George (Theo Fraser Steele), a middle-aged Englishman, and college professor, is grieving the loss of his long-term partner, Jim, who has died in a car accident.

George spends his time teaching English literature, dodging the overtures of his homophobic neighbours and recalling moments from his life with Jim. Isherwood’s 1964 novel was ground-breaking in its poignant depiction of a gay man forced to conceal his grief.

Set over the course of 24 hours we follow George on a typical day. He wakes alone in his bed, performs his ablutions, dresses, and drives to college where he delivers a seminar on Aldous Huxley.

One of his students, Kenny (a terrific stage debut from Miles Moran), is clearly attracted (and attractive) to George.

Later, George visits a friend in hospital and fellow expat Charley (Olivia Darnley) persuades him to come to dinner. As he begins to loosen up, we see a softer side to his buttoned up exterior.

After leaving Charley, he bumps into Kenny in a bar. They go skinny dipping together and return to George’s house to continue drinking. George passes out and wakes up alone. But has something shifted?

It’s inevitable that Philip Wilson’s production will be compared to Tom Ford’s acclaimed screen adaptation, starring Colin Firth, and Steele employs a similar clipped English accent and reserve.

Unfortunately, this stiff formality becomes the play’s dominant tone and smothers any  tension. George’s grief is largely internalised which keep the audience at a distance. As a consequence, Wilson’s production never fully ignites. It’s a shame because Reade’s adaptation is proficient and it’s well acted, but there’s no underlying conflict to engage and make us truly care.

Originally publishsed by the Islington Tribune 

Until November 26