A Dose of Fame by Stephen Wakelam

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2nd listening, November 16, 2011

BBC Radio 4, 16 October 2009
Based on actual events in the life of E. M. Forster, A Dose of Fame is set in 1910 at the time of the first publication of Howards End. At that time Forster (Stephen Campbell Moore) is a moderately successful writer living in Weybridge with an over-protective mother Lily (Diana Quick), who perpetually tries to sustain a facade of respectability and thereby minimize his homosexual impulses. Matters come to a head, however, when Forster encounters Ernest (Benjamin Askew), an eligible young man. The two of them enjoy a pleasurable afternoon together; but later on the day Ernest hangs himself. Forster is in no way to blame for the incident, but he is jolted into realizing that he can no longer disregard his sexuality.
The play looks at the conflict in Forster's mind between the public image and the private man. He develops a crush on Masood (Nawh Chowdry), a well-educated Indian, but can never go beyond a platonic relationship. His turbulent state of mind is captured in a painting by the artist Roger Fry (Malcolm Tierney) which brings out Forster's "womanish temperament" (in Fry's phrase).
Forster's writing mirrors his mental state. Howards End proves a runaway success - his best-selling work to date - but scandalizes polite society (personified by his mother) with its frank discussion of illegitimacy and sexual hedonism. The book's basic theme can be summed up by the phrase 'only connect' - more precisely defined as the ability (or inability) of people to relate to one another, either emotionally or sexually. Forster could never do this - at least, until much later in his life when he cast aside the trappings of social respectability and wrote Maurice, a novel partly based on his experiences with Ernest, which was immediately banned on account of its frank sexual content.
A Dose of Fame tells a cautionary tale of how middle-class morality in early twentieth century Britain reduced people to emotional cripples. Sometimes playwright Stephen Wakeham's style seems slightly anachronistic (no Edwardian would ever refer to someone being "frightened of difference"), but the play reveals a genuine emotional concern for Forster's state of mind. The director was David Hunter.