by W. Somerset Maugham.
The action takes place at the Tabrets' home near London. Time, the present
(There is an interval at 9.0 app.)
In a recent television discussion about acting there was mention of this play as an example of a modern work offering superb opportunities to three actresses; and indeed, ever since its first production in 1929, this has been recognised as a highly effective 'strong' problem-play in the naturalist idiom, and a prime example of Mr. Maugham's spare, exactly gauged dialogue. Nobody has been more expert in conducting emotional storms among the teacups of an ordinary drawing-room, mixing gun-powder and good manners, reconciling emotional crises with the idiom of a class and generation given to understatement.
Maurice Tabret, the central character, is a young man dreadfully injured in an air crash, who for six years has been paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. His wife, Stella, with whom he had been passionately happy, has done her best to comfort him and make the best of their changed life; they now live with Maurice's mother, and there is a young Nurse who completes the trio of women whose concern is Maurice's well-being. But there is tension beneath the calm surface, especially with Stella, and the arrival of Maurice's brother, Colin, provokes a situation whose tragedy is exacerbated by the fact that everybody concerned means well. Thus, the sacred flame, as James Agate put it, "is a five-branched candelabrum - Maurice's ineffectual desire, Stella's pity, her normal attraction towards Colin, Nurse Wayland's burning chastity, and the mother's all-embracing love". (Peter Forster)