Pam Gems’ play Stanley is a dramatic portrait of 20th-century British painter Stanley Spencer and his milieu, focusing on his complicated relationship with his first wife, Hilda, and with his subsequent wife, Patricia Preece. The play was first performed in the Cottesloe auditorium at the National Theatre, London, on 1 February 1996 (previews from 24 January).
Stanley Spencer, the wayward genius of modern British painting, hasn’t lost his ‘rough edges’, despite being taken up by the smart set. Married to Hilda, a gifted painter in her own right, he nevertheless falls head over heels for Patricia, a family friend and defiantly unconventional lesbian who is incapable of loving him. He eventually divorces Hilda in favour of Patricia, who inveigles him to sign over his financial affairs to her, thus leaving Hilda completely bereft. Much of the play revolves around this complicated ménage-a-trois and dramatises the intensity of Spencer’s love for both women.
The National Theatre premiere was directed by John Caird and designed by Tim Hatley. The cast was Antony Sher (as Stanley), Deborah Findlay (as Hilda), Ann Chancellor (as Patricia), Pip Torrens, Nicola King, David Collings, Selina Cadell, Richard Howard, Stephanie Jacob, Avril Elgar, Nicholas Deigman, Daniel Forster-Smith, Robbie Morton and Robert Smythson.
Stanley won the 1996 Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play, and the 1997 Olivier Award for Best New Play.