United Players of Vancouver
The Invention of Love by Tom Stoppard

Dates and Venue 3 - 26 April 2009 @ 8.00pm | Jericho Arts Centre

Director C.W. (Toph) Marshall Set Design Sally Song Lang Costume Design Sarah Fawson Lighting Kyla Gardiner Sound David Campbel Stage Manager Cassandra Tattrie

Reviewer Jane Penistan

This Stoppard play is a reflection on the life and times of A. E. Housman. Better known to most of us by his poetry, mainly a "Shropshire Lad and Last Poems." Housman was a distinguished classical scholar and university professor in the latter part of the 19th and earlier 20th century, holding chairs at both London and Cambridge universities.

In the dual personalities of the mature professor and a young man growing up in Victorian England, the problems of youth and the wisdom of old age meet. Director C.W. (Toph) Marshall was fortunate in the imaginative design of his stage and the ingenious boats called for in the script, and in his actors’ ability in miming. The costumes were well thought out and reflected the times and the characters of the cast. There was a university atmosphere throughout, both in the scenes of the older academics and those of the youthful undergraduates.

The problems of homosexuality in a country where it was a secret sin, punishable by law if discovered, and the heartbreak and guilt suffered by individual homosexuals are laid bare and discussed against an academic and elitist background. The beautifully written, poetical, introspective and humourous script was delivered by the entire cast with intelligence and understanding.

The play opened with the older Housman waiting on the banks of the river Styx, waiting for Charon (Dick Pugh) to come and ferry him across the river. He reflected whimsically on his last hours. The performance of Graham Bullen as the elder Housman, was outstanding. He was the perfect Victorian academic, a highly intelligent intellectual, a humane and sensitive person, courageous and principled, and with a great sense of humour.

Paul Toolan as Benjamin Jowett, played croquet, and discussed the state of the university with fellows John Ruskin (John Harris) and Walter Pater (Daryl Hutchings). These actors also played other roles in later scenes, as did others in the cast. The only woman on stage was Katherine Housman, sister to A.E. Housman. Seen as a young woman, Courtney Lancaster was a beautifully dressed, Victorian young lady.

The undergraduates, the young Housman (Tariq Leslie), a classics student, and his friends, Moses Jackson (Andrew Halliwell), the athletic science student, and the love of Housman’s life, and Alfred Pollard (Ian Runacres), another classicist, enjoyed the university life of their era, discussing their studies, fellow students and tutors, in the way of all undergraduates. To be in a boat was part of university life while the river flows from generation to generation.

This is an exceptionally well directed, presented and performed production of a unique play. It deserves many accolades for all concerned in this brilliant, dramatic theatrical experience.

© 2009 Jane Penistan