Adultery is a question of belief

The End of the Affair

Grange Players


ANYONE who has ever read Graham Greene will know that he could never be described as a pacy writer. He doesn’t do holiday read page turners with a new drama to grip you every couple of pages.

He builds characters slowly stripping away their lives and thoughts like the layers of an onion and The End of the Affair was one of the novels where Greene, a Roman Catholic, explored catholic themes of belief and man’s relationship with God and whether there was anything to believe at all.

This adaptation by Rupert Goold and Catherine Butler is not the easiest to stage. Greene’s novel had little in the way of action or pace and there are so many scenes in the adaptation, many very short, that the production becomes bitty, not allowing any natural theatrical rhythm to build - a little too much stop-start.

It is a technique which works better in film and the novel has twice been adapted for the screen, once in 1955 with

Deborah Kerr , Van Johnson, Sir John Mills and Peter Cushing and again in 1999 with  Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea.

The production is also a tad on the long side at two and three quarter hours including the interval and a little judicious pruning might help to create a little more pace – for example did we need a mini VE Day party on stage? Wouldn’t the strains of songs and street parties have served the same purpose more elegantly?

That is not to say that the production does not have merit.  The set is imaginative and the acting  strong and believable.

The story is a simple one. Maurice Bendix is a rising writer who in 1939, was having an affair with Sarah Miles, the wife of Whitehall mandarin Henry Miles.

Maurice is caught in an explosion in the blitz and Sarah makes a promise to God that she will never see him again if he is allowed to live. Maurice then walks in with no more damage than a cut lip to create an ex-lover who is then wracked by guilt, doubts and beliefs for the rest of her life.


Adam Woodward gives us an intense Maurice who is still in love, and lust, with Sarah and wants the affair to start again after a chance meeting with Henry on Clapham Common where they both live. Initially he wants little more than a one night stand so he can break it off rather than being the rejected party but we soon realise that the affair runs much deeper than that.

Woodward manages to keep up a rather clipped 1940’s accent without a flutter from beginning to end, which is no mean feat in itself.

David Weller gives a fine performance as Henry, a man who gives boredom a bad name. Henry is dull in 10 foot high neon capital letters. Even when he discovers the affair he struggles to raise an objection. You could imagine that a double yolked egg is perhaps the limit of excitement in his life.

Liz Webster gives is a rather sensuous Liz who you could well believe could stray from her Mogadon man of a husband to the arms of a celebrity author. She is believable as a woman with no faith but who has found a belief and we can feel her anguish, even if we can’t understand her conflict, in coming to terms with her love for Maurice and her promise to God. She has a couple of long speeches when her emotions are raw and exposed for all to see.

Incidentally every intimate moment between Sarah and Maurice involves Sarah stripping to a mini-slip, suspenders and nylon stockings – not that I am complaining, mind you, but I suspect nylon and silk stockings would have been much harder to come by than rising star writers throughout the war.

After their meeting on the common Henry brings Maurice back for a drink where he reveals he suspects Sarah is having an affair and had considered using a private detective but decides against it. Maurice employs the detective instead which takes us to the offices of Mr Savage, played by Leslie Wilkes, which introduces us to his man Albert Parkis, played with solid, working class deference and respectability by Christopher Waters.


 He in turn introduces us to Richard Smythe, “Smythe with a y” played by Dan Payne, who is a humourless individual, living with his sister, played by Jill Simkin, whose mission is to deny God to anyone who will listen after being born with a birthmark on his cheek.

There is a little confusion in some scenes as to where we are in time whether it is now,  1946 in this case, or 1939, or anywhere in between, not helped by Maurice wearing the same suit for all seven years and Sarah having the same particular, easily removed costume for whenever sex was in the air.

The production is directed by Julie Lomas who has cleverly divided the stage into three sections, all on a different level to give us the Miles’s swish house in the middle, a clear area stage left which gives us offices, restaurants, street parties, the common, Smythe’s flat and even churches  with the use of back projection to set scenes.

Stage right is where Maurice lives with bare walls and bricks exposed and a shared telephone in rented rooms with a landlady in the same house which seems a little incongruous with a successful author who appears to have no financial worries – telling us he eats in an up market restaurant three times a week or so - and has had at least one book turned into a film.

There are some interesting touches such as the transclucent glass walls across the rear of the stage, very art deco, which serve as entrance halls for the homes of the Smythe’s, Miles’s and Maurice’s bedsit – the single bare light bulb seen dimly through the frosted glass in Maurice’s rooms is a nice touch as is the entrance to all properties being though a single, shinny, red door which somehow gives a significance to every entrance..

Hopefully the production, with much to commend it, will pick up a little speed and rhythm as the run progresses and a couple of opening night sound and lighting wobbles will undoubtedly have been ironed out by now. To 20-07-13.

Roger Clarke

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