The English Touring Theatre is the UK’s leading touring company, taking shows across the country to a variety of venues and audiences. Non-traditional theatre is becoming increasingly popular, and taking the theatre outside of the usual auditorium means that travelling companies are received with open arms by all manner of stages. The ETT’s newest production, The Sacred Flame by W. Somerset Maugham, is currently touching down at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, whose Artistic Director is the former director of the ETT.
The Sacred Flame is the sad tale of Maurice Tabret, an invalid Great War hero, who dies peacefully at home. But when the nurse cries foul play, the family, including his wife and brother, are pushed into a mess of accusation, jealousy, love, and hatred. Directed by Matthew Dunster, this insight into post-war life and the modernising views of the time is presented simply and without embellishment. The set, designed by Anna Fleischle, comprises of a tall framed window looking into Maurice’s room, flanked by a ceiling-high shelf covered in bottles and photos, and a stark staircase. We get the impression of both a picture frame and a prison, the invalid bed ever-present behind the family’s chairs.
Jamie De Courcey played the pallid but chipper Maurice, spending the entirety of the play in bed (a job I think we’d all like!), and yet providing an energy and heart to the stage that made the first act vibrant, and the second morose. His ever-present Nurse Wayland (Sarah Churm) was both attentive and ominous, in the background and yet constantly in the audience’s sights, only to burst on more fiercely post-interval. Maurice’s young wife, Stella, and brother, Colin (Beatriz Romilly and David Ricardo-Pearce), railed through all possible emotions without pushing too far into farce, despite some very comical moments. But it was Mrs. Tabret, played by Margot Leicester, who stole the show for me. As Maurice’s mother, she was doting and yet aware of her daughter-in-law’s presence, respectful of their privacy but conscious of her son’s diminishing health. It was this wholly genuine reaction that made her both relatable and likeable.
This production of The Sacred Flame combines wonderfully natural speech with a symbolic set, yet makes it more relatable than some Chekhov plays, depicting a middle-class scandal as real, possible, and ultimately a very human ordeal.