Thursday, 17 July 2008

Patrick Hamilton and Hangover Square

I’d been reading and re-reading a lot of Patrick Hamilton recently. A novelist and playwright, he died in 1962 of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure. I’d first read Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude in the 1970s when they were on offer via The New Fiction Society - a sort of book club, funded by the Arts Council, if I remember rightly.

While a great success in the 30s and 40s, Hamilton is a writer who has subsequently drifted in an out of fashion. Currently he appears to be experiencing something of a revival. Hangover Square is a Penguin Modern Classic, while Black Spring Press are publishing a new edition of Nigel Jones's biography Through a Glass Darkly, as well as the 1926 novel Craven House. Most of his other major works are also in print.

So, last Friday evening I set off for Earls Court and the Finborough Theatre, where I was to review a new production Fidelis Morgan’s adaptation of Hangover Square for the Morning Star.

It was my first commissioned theatre review for some six months and my first visit to this particular theatre. A short walk from the Warwick Road exit of Earls Court station – but feeling longer because of the rain - The Finborough pub is long and thin and elegantly refurbished. Most of the people already there seemed to be theatre critics. Among them I recognised Lyn Gardner (Guardian) and Ian Shuttleworth (FT) from other press nights I’ve been to.

The play itself was engrossing and I thought the production and acting were excellent - especially well suited to the intimacy of this small space. If you follow this link it will take you to my review published in today’s Morning Star.

I’ve just had a look online to see what other people are saying, and the production seems to have gone down well with most critics. I was interested to note, though, that Lyn Gardner n The Guardian detects strong misogynist tendencies in the work.

I’m not sure I agree with this. I think Hamilton could more accurately be described as a misanthrope rather than a misogynist. For example, in Slaves of Solitude his main protagonist, Miss Roach, is portrayed with sympathy and understanding. Indeed it is the men who fare less well in this novel.

Again in The Plains of Cement, the final part of the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy, Ella the barmaid is also treated with understanding and sympathy, yet placed squarely within her class context. The closing sentence of the novel is:

But at about half-past ten that night, John, the new waiter at “The Midnight Bell,” coming up tired to bed after a hard day’s work in the job he had taken on, listened, and heard the barmaid weeping.

It seems simple and prosaic enough but, in light of what has come before, it is unexpectedly and deeply affecting. It also underlines how far the reader has come in understanding and caring about the character and is a tribute to the subtlety of Hamilton’s writing.

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