Felicity Kendal in ‘Room With A View’ – photo supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal

Director Adrian Noble brings a sumptuous stage adaptation of the famous E.M. Forster novel to the Norwich Theatre Royal stage this week with a skilled and competent cast led by Felicity Kendal.

The tale is complex yet ultimately a simple romance given context by reference to the rapidly changing social values in English society. Skilfully detailed by Forster as the Nineteenth Century gave way to the troubled times of the next century, it discusses the role of women, class, feminism and socialism with a refreshing frankness that we do not always associate with this period. Save for one crucial episode there is little depiction of the working or lower classes, and all the principle characters live comfortable lives of great leisure yet little purpose.

The first act is set in Italy, in Florence, then Act 2 brings us back to stultifyingly safe and comfortable Surrey. While Act 1 is about travel, risk, desire and yearning we return to our seats after the interval we appear to be settling into sleepy comfort rather too quickly. Indeed one or two audience eyes were flickering shut for a minute or two. Yet the second act gets to the heart of the dilemma facing Lucy Honeychurch, the central character of the drama who having lost her heart – or was it her head – in Florence is now on the cusp of marriage to Cecil Vyse a wealthy man with no desire to earn a living. Will she follow her heart or her head?

Quite suddenly a warm summer afternoon takes a rather startling turn and the audience, sleepy no more, are in quite a hubbub! The warning notices at the auditorium entrance should have given us a clue really. Take your smelling salts just in case…

Vyse is played rather engagingly by Charlie Anson as a cross between Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rather dim policeman in ‘Allo Allo’, betrothed briefly to Lucy who is played with great energy and conviction by Lauren Coe. Yet Lucy cannot escape her feelings for George Emerson (Tom Morley), with whom she had a brief encounter in Florence that gives the turning point for the whole story.

Emerson returns by chance to the same village in Surrey as Lucy, along with his free-thinking, atheist and socialist father played most engagingly by Jeff Rawle. This elegant production has a beautifully designed set, highlighting the views from various rooms and has a cast that gel together very well with several outstanding character performances. Many of the audience, stirred by happy memories of “The Good Life” on TV will have come to see Felicity Kendal in particular in the central role of Charlotte, Lucy’s aunt, travelling companion and rather inattentive chaperone, who is re-living her own thwarted ambition through her vivacious niece. Another engaging performance comes from Simon Jones as the fellow traveller Mr Beebe.

There are a few small niggles – one or two of the cast have voices perhaps better suited for film and TV acting and struggled to project to the depths of the stalls. But in the end it is a very satisfying evening of theatre that combines period ambience with themes that are as relevant as ever to day in a well written and constructed drama.

©Julian Swainson

A Room With A View , Monday to Saturday, November 7 to 12, 2016. Eves 7.30pm, Mats Wed & Sat 2.30pm. Tickets £8-£28.50. BOX OFFICE 01603 630000. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Over 60s, Under 18s, Groups. Audio Described Performance Sat Nov 12, 2.30pm. Captioned Performance Wed Nov 9, 2.30pm. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk