An Englishman's home may be his castle, as the crenellated walls of John Gunter's set remind us, but that of Maurice and his mother, Maude, is more fortified than most. Middle-aged Maurice stays home playing 78s, reading porn, and receiving twice-weekly visits from sexually obliging neighbours. Maude's even more withdrawn from reality, thinking the actors in television commercials can hear her ("I like your hair; do you like mine?") and floating through the day on a cloud of cocktails.
Maurice's dad lies in an open coffin. His funeral is the reason Maurice's older brother and twin sister have returned to Bristol, from London and America respectively. But Hedley and Queenie's success has been spurred, like their flight, by humiliation and fear. The contempt of his drunken father is as painful to Hedley now as it was four decades ago and Queenie, left alone with the corpse, spits in its face. Unlikely as it sounds, however, Peter Nicols's 1979 play, the first in Peter Hall's Bath season, is a comedy.
As Nicols makes plain, we are all born into the prison of our families. Queenie and Hedley want to break the past's hold on the present – she by getting Maurice to join her in California, he by moving Maude out of the dark, haunted mock Tudor manor so he can tear it down. But they find their relatives as resistant to change as time itself.
Maurice and Maude, we are explicitly told, represent England, clinging to the cage of a mean and cruel past, made cosy with delusion and self-indulgence. As well as over statement, the play suffers from a lack of action and from Maurice being too obviously Nicols' spokesman. But the play is still a cosy nest in which to spend a more-than agreeable two hours.
Allan Corduner is a masterly Maurice, deploying his considerable intellect in defence of lies and holding down with both hands the lid clamped on his feelings.
Stephanie Cole's Maude is too soft – we never feel the horror of this vain and selfish woman who sacrifices her children's happiness to her own fantasies. But in the comic moments she is peerless and she delivers beautifully the best joke that Nicols wrote. Explaining that she doesn't, in fact, hate all Labour politicians, she says: "Some of them are so nice they could almost be Conservatives."
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