Tag Archives: Terence Rattigan

“While The Sun Shines” at the Orange Tree Theatre

There are plenty of laughs while Paul Miller’s triumphant production of Terence Rattigan’s brilliant comedy lights up the stage. This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. 

The wartime wedding of Earl Harpeden and Lady Elisabeth becomes a farce when she meets two Allied soldiers who make her think again about getting hitched. The trouble is a question of experience: blasé  Bobbie has been around, while Elisabeth is too innocent for both their good.  

Philip Labey takes the lead as the Earl with an “open boyish manner” balanced by a knowing touch: this toff is nice and not dim. Labey’s is a massive role marked by a generosity to colleagues that benefits all. And Labey has the ability to generate sympathy; for all the flippancy and fun, I wanted the marriage to go ahead. Rebecca Collingwood plays the intended, showing Elisabeth has a mind of her own. Collingwood’s depiction of wide-eyed innocence is funnier than you can imagine – howls of laughter greet the simplest statements. 

Rebecca Collingwood in While the Sun Shines - photo by Ali Wright
Rebecca Collingwood as Lady Elisabeth

Conor Glean is an appealing Lieutenant Mulvaney fresh off the boat from the US of A. The performance is neat and the humour gentle. Michael Lumsden and John Hudson play a bluff Major and a refined butler respectively – both to perfection. If Jordan Mifsúd’s Lieutenant Colbert got more laughs from me, put it down to ‘appy memories of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Mifsúd’s faux-French is a skilled work of genius. 

Sophie Khan Levy in While the Sun Shines - photo by Ali Wright_
Sophie Khan Levy

Really stealing the show is the man-eater and self-confessed trollop Mabel Crum. I wonder if she was Rattigan’s favourite part? Mabel gets laughs even when she’s not on stage. Sophie Khan Levy’s embodiment of this confident and caring character shows how essential the role is in this carefully constructed play. 

It’s Mabel who ends up in charge. Don’t be fooled that she’s continually sent to the kitchen. Prodding male egos in While The Sun Shines shows a subversive touch that has aged well. The distasteful attempts at seduction would have been as off for Rattigan as they are for us, but offence is deflated by how useless the men are! And it isn’t just one couple under the microscope here – it’s the institution of marriage. That Mabel stands aloof from it all makes her a character to cheer. Mabel gets the last laugh. The audience laugh all along. 

Until 8 January 2022 

www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk 

 Photos by Ali Wright

"The Deep Blue Sea" from NTLive

This week the National Theatre’s fund-raising offering is sheer class. Carrie Cracknell’s 2016 production of Terence Rattigan’s play is a traditional affair that oozes quality, with a solid script, stunning set and stellar performances.

The Deep Blue Sea is far from easy sailing. It starts with its heroine, Hester, having just attempted suicide, as the affair that broke her marriage is coming to an end. Concern over mental health has progressed since Rattigan was writing in 1952 but the playwright’s insight into depression offers much to learn from.

Rattigan’s preoccupation, however, is Hester’s passion. Her love for her husband, eclipsed by that for RAF pilot Freddie Paige, is fascinating. The romance is dangerous – this sea is stormy. Hester sees no chance of escaping a love that will not work: she and Freddie are “death to each other”. The production’s first triumph is to make sure Rattigan’s piece doesn’t descend into melodrama.

Tom Burke in The Deep Blue Sea. Image by Richard Hubert Smith
Tom Burke

The love triangle provides strong roles for Peter Sullivan and Tom Burke, who are excellent. Their chemistry with their leading lady is astonishing. Burke is especially strong in making the occasionally odious Freddie convincingly alluring as an “homme fatale”. But the show belongs to Helen McCrory whose performance as Hester is flawless. Sharp and wry, the mix of “anger, hatred, shame” is conveyed in every move.

There’s a sense of British reserve behind all the action, darkly adding to the potency, but McCrory and Cracknell keep this as under control as Hester’s emotions. Moments when Hester is alone and can let go – holding her face to the light or crawling on the floor in desperation – are awe-inspiring in their emotional power.

The Deep Blue Sea image by Richard Hubert Smith
Tom Schutt’s impressive set

Focusing on a sense of community within the boarding house setting, aided by Tom Schutt’s impressive set full of solicitous neighbours, means Cracknell adds to the play. A brilliant scene where Hester is joined by the women in the piece (played by Marion Bailey and Yolanda Kettle) alters our focus. It’s a move all the more remarkable given that the play, through Rattigan’s biography, is often discussed for its gay subtext.

If interested, try to track down a copy of Mike Poulton’s play Kenny Morgan, about the suicide of Rattigan’s lover (and a fascinating work in its own right). There is a danger that The Deep Blue Sea can be overpowered by this biographical note. But Cracknell has provided a space for the play to exist independently; an achievement for any revival that makes Rattigan’s script and his legacy stronger.

Until 16 July 2020

To support, visit nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Richard Hubert Smith

“Kenny Morgan” at the Arcola Theatre

Mike Poulton’s new play is described as being “after” Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. Provoking a fascinating relationship between the texts, Poulton exposes the real story of what inspired Rattigan’s work – the suicide of the writer’s eponymous former partner – giving a lesson in gay history and intelligently exploring a tragic love triangle.

This is accomplished writing. With impeccable period detail, and well-researched biographical layers, the play has you reaching for a copy of both texts. Those having seen the National Theatre’s recent production of the Rattigan are in for a game of compare and contrast. But Kenny Morgan is more than a companion piece. Using insights into the closeted world of post-war Britain, Poulton raises themes of shame and hope, dealing sensitively with the subject matter of despair.

Lucy Bailey’s direction is commendable in its restraint, her frequent adventurous streak held back. Crafting an old-fashioned feel, slow-paced, with momentum gradually building, Bailey understands what is needed. She has also secured some tremendous performances that confirm the show is worthy of the blanket praise received from critics during its first sell-out run earlier this year.

Paul Keating is remarkable in the title role. Trapped in a loveless relationship with a young man of astounding selfishness (made credible by Pierro Neil-Mee), Kenny’s hysteria is perfectly controlled by Keating. Frustration and tension mount as the hopelessness of his situation becomes clear, and his final plea is truly distressing. In the background is the famous writer Rattigan, part of the “silk dressing gown and cigarette holder set”, still in love with Kenny but unable to offer him public recognition. Rattigan’s public persona, constructed at a cost, makes this a layered role performed to perfection by Simon Dutton.

Also impressive are those living in the boarding house with Kenny, who help to propel the play’s drama. Marlene Sidaway is superb as a char, whose sly remarks about “musicals” add humour, but whose concern is genuine. Likewise, Matthew Bulgo plays a clerk unnerved by Kenny’s intensity and glamorous connections. Finally a former doctor, who gives the most articulate consideration of Kenny’s situation, provides George Irving with a role he is hugely impressive in. These well-rounded characters create a populous world outside the theatrical milieu Kenny is haunted by, opening up Poulton’s play to make it far more than any afterthought to another work but a standalone piece of great strength.

Until 15 October 2016

www.arcolatheatre.com

“After the Dance” at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s contribution to the Terence Rattigan centenary celebrations is one of his least known plays, After the Dance. This provides a provocative insight into the Bright Young Things – that post-WWI, Bohemian generation – and in particular what happens to them in later life. Set in 1938, the play’s serious-minded youngsters observe their elders with disdain. This new generation thinks the party should have ended long ago and, with a new war looming, it becomes clear that any dance now is likely to be a macabre one.

The Scott-Fowlers are a wealthy and glamorous couple, still on the party scene and seemingly enjoying themselves. Reaching for the gin with improbable frequency, even more impossibly they retain their wit. They may not be young but they are still bright and a great source of comedy. Benedict Cumberbatch and Nancy Carroll portray this sophistication perfectly – they positively sparkle.

The Scott-Fowlers are joined by their ‘court jester’ John Reid, played by National Theatre stalwart Adrian Scarborough, who (as usual) manages to steal any scene he is in. We also get to meet their friends, including a cameo from Pandora Colin that is worth the price of a ticket alone. Her character’s vague distaste of her Bloomsbury days now that times have moved on is not only hilarious but reveals the dichotomy this group lives with – obsessed with the past, they are also slaves to fashion.

John Heffernan and Faye Castelow
John Heffernan and Faye Castelow

Aloof to it all, David Scott-Fowler’s cousin and young secretary, Peter, is played superbly by the always impressive John Heffernan. While intrigued with the glamorous life he isn’t ashamed of being the “bore” his elders live in fear of being described as. His fiancée Helen also sees that the pretence of being continually interesting is exhausting, but is in love with the older David and young enough to try to change him. Faye Castelow gives this pursuit an almost sinister edge and shows how Helen fails to recognise the depth of character she lectures about is actually already present. Given the chance to show their characters’ deeper side, Cumberbatch and Carroll excel once again.

There is no doubt that this is a revival to cherish. Rattigan’s masterfully crafted script is directed with characteristic clarity by Thea Sharrock. The production values are as high as we might expect from the National Theatre, with a stylish set from Hildegard Bechtler and breathtaking costumes. Any reference to contemporary events and the economic boom of recent history are (perhaps thankfully) avoided. Entertaining and interesting, impeccably performed and produced, this is the perfect period piece.

Until 11 August 2010

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 9 June 2010 for The London Magazine