EM Forster’s classic novel A Room with a View gets a rework for the stage this month at Cambridge Arts Theatre, in a show running 14-19 November.
Set in buttoned up Edwardian-era England, the plot follows Lucy Honeychurch and her prim, older cousin Charlotte Bartlett as they tour Italy.
English rose Lucy makes the acquaintance of an inappropriate suitor, the lower-class George Emerson, whom she’s caught kissing by Charlotte, who promptly whisks her away to Rome. Back home in Surrey, Lucy becomes engaged to the eminently more suitable but unbearably pompous Cecil Vyse – she’s sworn Charlotte to secrecy over her tryst with George, but when the Emersons move into her village she finds herself in turmoil; torn between conflicting values and unable to suppress her feelings.
“What is interesting about this play is that it is very structured around behaviour and manners and morals and the outward show of decency,” says national treasure Felicity Kendal (right), who stars in the role of chaperone Charlotte. “We now have a period in history where we’re absolutely doing the opposite. The book and the play are about a young girl who is restrained and constrained by having to conform. She’s got to get married, she can’t kiss a young man – it could ruin her life. And the pressures of society on that young person to behave in a way that’s acceptable is what the play is about. Now we have the opposite; young girls have to be on YouTube and they have to post selfies. But although they’re different they’re also the same because you have to conform.”
She describes her character as being “a very complicated lady”, but does Kendal feel that she shares any common ground with Charlotte?
“Yes, absolutely – browbeaten, you know, and single…” she laughs. “No. One of the reasons I’m an actor is because I want to go into worlds that don’t resemble my own life and my own world... Charlotte’s life is dictated by the time she is living in. The great suffragette movement was just beginning then – it was a huge change happening and she was not a woman who was able to overcome her mistake in the world, if you like. There’s obviously some history she’s had that has made it impossible for her to get married, which means she has no standing in the world at all and very little money.”
The show is currently touring the UK, but Kendal is especially looking forward to the pit stop in Cambridge, saying “I’ve been there so many times and it’s a very special place. You walk to work and it’s such a young, vibrant city. It’s part of history and it’s lovely.”
Tickets to the show are £23-£42. The play is on daily at 7.45pm, with matinees on 17 and 19 November at 2.30pm.