Marking LGBT History Month, Stephen Hornby’s The Adhesion of Love celebrates the Victorian men for whom homosexuality was strictly forbidden. In a time when being openly gay was punishable by incarceration, the story of these incredible men is vitally important and needs to be told to a contemporary audience.
“We must not let social conventions stand in the way of anything.”
Hornby’s play is based on the true story of John Wallace, a working class man from Bolton who forms a reading group, inspired by his love for the poetry of Walt Whitman. Attracting like-minded men, these members of the group are less reserved than Wallace, who struggles to comprehend sexual realities, and banish his romantic notions about love. Grieving for the death of his mother, Wallace embarks on a journey across the Atlantic to meet Walt Whitman, in order to gain spiritual and sexual enlightenment. In direct contrast to the uptight, repressive state in England, Whitman’s house allows men to be free and open with their love. Wallace certainly returns enlightened!
The Adhesion of Love has a promising premise with plenty of potential. The script is punctuated with eloquent language, giving a historic realism to the piece. However, the play is entirely dialogue based, with little urgency or action. For the majority of the play, characters stand (or sit) on stage without moving. They talk, then exit. There is barely any dramatic reason to justify it having to be performed on a stage at all. Its performance is more equivalent to a spoken-word narrative.
Heavy philosophical and scientific debates weigh down the performance, draining the play of its pace. The narrative grinds to a halt as characters repeatedly deliberate spiritual and philosophical theories, such as ‘cosmic consciousness’ or ‘atomic energies’. It was a PowerPoint presentation away from becoming a lecture. I struggled to understand these transcendent discussions. They left me confused and perplexed. They felt irrelevant, as they added little to the story, and I simply switched off during them. Similarly, some of the actors seemed to struggle with this cumbersome dialogue, as their performances conveyed a sense of reciting the script.
Against this tedious onslaught of monotonous philosophical reflection, Dean Michael Gregory’s promiscuous, sexually charged Charles is a breath of fresh air. Casually tossing off the coal man or receiving a blow job from a spiritualist, Charles injects a much needed flair of kinetic energy into what is an uninspiring, lacklustre play, lacking eroticism. Sadly, his appearances are fleeting.
The Adhesion of Love has a good concept, with the huge potential to be a great play. Considerable editing, and a light touch, is required to focus on the characters’ stories, rather than wearisome, mind-numbing theorising. With some refinement, the powerful stories of these incredible men can be brought to life, importantly portraying their resolve against social oppression.