A day in the life of George, an Englishman living in America, in his fifties – a man alone following the death of his younger partner, Jim.
A man of routine habits, but this is no routine day. Actor Theo Fraser Steele (who gives a finely judged performance), adapter Simon Reade, and director Philip Wilson give us a glimpse into the world of Christopher Isherwood’s novel.
A Single Man follows George, alone in bed, bathroom and at breakfast, a “prisoner for life”. He tells us something of his daily grind, habits, and the neighbourhood of conservative neighbours in which he resides.
We find him on his car commute, giving a class where a discussion about minorities dodges realities, visiting a dying friend (Doris, one of many roles for Phoebe Pryce) and having supper with an unhappy one, Charley (Olivia Darnley) then doing one thing uncharacteristically silly and unplanned.
This is a play about what is lost as much as what it present. We see life with Jim (Miles Malan, in a striking professional debut), the brushing past on the stairs, the reminding of the car keys, the catch of breath of first love.
We hear of memories George relates to a Doris “preparing for death” and a tipsy Charley conflicted about her life remote from Britain. Both are nostalgic for a past which may never have been as cosy at the time.
Although a tragic piece at heart, A Single Man is funny, too, with some lovely two-headers between George and Charley, and George and his student Kenny (also played beautifully by Malan).
The set design (by Caitlin Abbott) allows a few props to become a home, a bar (Freddie Gaminara plays a laconic bartender, one of multiple characters), the beach.
I also admired the lighting (by Peter Harrison), which allowed intimate spaces to be highlighted, memories to be shown (a low red glow of a fireplace), or places to be hinted at – working closely in tandem with Beth Duke’s sound.
A Single Man is a strong revival in Reade’s new adaptation – it was preciously staged in a version by Michael Michaelian at Greenwich Theatre in 1990, starring Alec McCowen just three years after losing his real-life partner to AIDS.
Of course, each generation will find resonance in this play: in the 1960s, the shadow of the Second World War and the looming tragedy of Vietnam which may well catch Kenny and his fellow students; now, perhaps the pandemic.
Although this stage version did not move me at the end quite as much as Tom Ford’s 2009 film, this is an atmospheric play in which this day in a life is both profound and utterly ordinary. It is just a pity that Colin Firth nailed this part for many, leaving this version slightly superfluous.
You can watch A Single Man at the Park Theatre’s 200 space until 26 November: book your tickets here.
Image credit: Mitzi de Margary