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Posts Tagged ‘Terence Rattigan’

The resurgence of interest in Terence Rattigan’s plays seems to have focused more on the intense dramas, like The Deep Blue Sea. The Orange Tree Theatre now gives us the second of the rarer comedies, following French Without Tears four years ago. I thought that earlier play hadn’t aged well, but this one comes up sparkling and fresh.

It’s set in the London home of The Earl of Harpenden, a man without a family who’s about to marry the daughter of The Duke of Ayr & Stirling. The Earl likes a good time and befriends an American Lieutenant at one of his drinking sessions and invites him to stay. His partying friend Mabel, a bit of a vamp, also turns up. His fiancee Elizabeth visits with someone she’s befriended, a French Lieutenant. Both fall for Elizabeth, which sends the play along a sophisticated, hysterical, delightful path to its happy conclusion.

The Orange Tree is the perfect space to give the comedy intimacy and pace. All you need is a few bits of furniture, and in this case a superb ceiling feature, to create this bachelor apartment; well, Horton the butler as well, obviously. All seven performances in Paul Miller’s pitch perfect production shine. Notwithstanding the period it’s still set in, this seventy-six-year-old play feels so fresh. What must have been a tonic in war-time London, proves to be a tonic still.

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I wish working class playwright D H Lawrence would come into fashion like middle class playwright Terence Rattigan has, so that we could see more of his work. The polymath novelist / poet / playwright wrote eight plays, only two of which were performed in his lifetime. The last we saw in London was a ‘mash up’ of his three early mining village plays, of which this is one, as Husbands & Sons at the National a couple of years ago, but revivals of his plays are few and far between.

It’s written in strong local dialect, so you have to put in a bit of work, but you do get into the rhythm of the language, which is an essential component of the piece, fairly quickly. It takes place in family homes represented evocatively in Louie Whitemore’s design by just four pieces of furniture on a platform, with the audience in two rows on four sides, and this intimacy results in extraordinary engagement, five actors shining in their respective roles. The backdrop is the 1912 miners strike and we’re in the village of Eastwood on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border. This is the world of D H Lawrence’s youth. A matriarchal society, but a man’s world.

Luther, in his early thirties, has recently married Minnie, who left life in service to do so. They are late to marriage because of his hesitancy in proposing long before, and perhaps because his mother has been holding him back. His younger brother Joe is still at home. Neighbour Mrs Purdy visits mother and younger son to inform them Luther has fathered a child with her daughter and suggests money could buy their silence. Mother, somewhat bitter at the loss of her elder son, not keen on her daughter-in-law and the inheritance she brought with her, refuses, so Mrs Purdy visits Luther.

It’s a brilliant play with excellent characterisations, superbly structured. It’s not just a personal story, but also social history and sociology, examining the roles and relationships between the sexes at that time, and archetypal mother and son relationships. Harry Hepple is simply terrific as Luther, torn between wife and mother, struggling to assert himself, clumsily when he does. Ellie Nunn is superb as a feisty Minnie, defiant and determined, but ultimately loving. Veronica Roberts is wonderful as the boys’ mum, worshiping them and pampering them. Matthew Biddulph is great as the more immature Joe, winding others up without considering the consequences and cheekily flirting with Minnie. Tessa Bell-Briggs gives a fine performance as Mrs Purdy. A brilliant cast.

Jack Gamble’s finely detailed staging is impeccable. This is an unmissable revival which I can only hope leads to many more.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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I’d always known there were autobiographical elements to this Terence Rattigan masterpiece, but seeing it a few weeks after Mike Poulton’s excellent new play Kenny Morgan, about the incidents that inspired it, I now realise it’s a whole lot more than elements. It’s uncanny.

It starts, as does Kenny Morgan, with the rescue if its main character Hester Collyer from her attempted suicide, lying in front of the gas fire with a stomach full of aspirin. She’s tended by landlady Mrs Elton, young neighbours Philip and Ann Welch and Mr Miller, a former doctor. Similar characters appear in the other play. Hester’s estranged husband William, a judge, is called, as Rattigan was in the true story. The subject of Hester’s sadness, her young lover Freddie, returns, but not for long, as the incident spooks him and prompts his permanent departure. She declines to return to her husband and a second suicide attempt is aborted, and this is where the play diverges from the truth – oh, and the sex of the main character!

Tom Scutt has built a two-story house with Hester’s flat’s living area stage front and her bedroom, bathroom and the stairwell behind gauze, so that you can see characters moving there. This is very effective in representing the life of the house as well as focusing on its troubled occupant. There’s a background droning sound which creates a brooding, tense, expectant atmosphere. I thought Carrie Cracknell’s staging was terrific, with a very clever ending that told you Hester’s fate without a word being spoken.

It’s superbly well cast, with Marion Bailey excellent as an empathetic but disapproving Mrs Elton and Nick Fletcher great as the mysterious ‘Doctor’ Miller. Hubert Burton and Yolanda Kettle are lovely as the naïve young couple and Peter Sullivan has great presence as William Collyer. There’s real chemistry and a sexual frisson between Tom Burke’s Freddie and Helen McCrory’s Hester, both of whom so suit their roles and both of whom really inhabit these complex characters. McCrory really is stunning, a nuanced performance, acting with every inch of her body. It’s as fine an acting ensemble as you’re likely to get on any stage.

Probably the best production of this play I’ve ever seen; unmissable Rattigan.

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This is the second play about Lawrence of Arabia in this centenary year of the Arab Revolt. When I saw Howard Brenton’s Lawrence After Arabia recently at Hampstead, I had no idea Terence Rattigan had written a play about the same man 46 years ago. This rare revival at Chichester was therefore an opportunity not to be missed for a Rattigan fan with a new interest in T E Lawrence. 

Like Brenton’s play, it starts and ends with scenes after his return from the Middle East, but this time during his first spell of attempted anonymity in the RAF rather than his second spell in the army, and we’re there with him rather than on leave at the home of G B Shaw and his wife. The filling in this sandwich is a more substantial period in the Middle East. Rattigan uses his RAF experience once more in writing terrific scenes of camaraderie, funny at the beginning, more moving at the end. There’s real emphasis on his genuine affection for, and friendship with, the Arab rebels he effectively leads. The Turkish forces appear this time and the account of the horrors he experienced when apprehended by them are very graphic. Though I enjoyed Brenton’s play, I found this had more depth, both in narrative and characterisation, but it did lag a bit in the initial Middle East scenes.

The eighteen strong all-male cast won’t win any awards for diversity, but that was unlikely to be on Rattigan’s mind 46 years ago. It’s a uniformly excellent ensemble too, led by Joseph Fiennes as an introspective but passionate Lawrence. Peter Polycarpou and Michael Feast are both very good, and virtually unrecognisable, as Sheik Auda Abu Tayi and the Turkish Military Governor respectively. Paul Freeman is great as General Allenby and Brendan Hooper a delight as Flight Sergeant Thompson. The stage seems much deeper than usual and William Dudley’s superb design features very imposing Egyptian pillars at the back and an open rough sandy stage which can change from British barracks to desert to office with just the minimum of furniture. I thought Adrian Noble’s staging was outstanding.

Well worth suffering Southern Rail’s chaos on a trip down to Chichester, good to see both Fiennes brothers in the same week, and to see the second of three plays by or about Rattigan in a three week period!

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Playwright Mike Poulton, hot on the heels of his hugely successful stage adaptations of Wolf Hall & Bring up the Bodies, has written a brilliant new play about Terence Rattigan’s ex-lover, with Rattigan as a character, that feels like it could be written by Rattigan himself (after the abolition of censorship, if he came out!). The incident at the core of the play was in fact the source of his classic The Deep Blue Sea, which I am seeing again in a couple of weeks, after another Rattigan play this week. I love it when things coincide like this.

It starts with Kenny Morgan’s attempted suicide, foiled by a neighbour smelling gas. The landlady and another neighbour, a (struck off) doctor, tend to him. His lover is away, so the neighbour calls the first number in his phone book – Rattigan. We learn that Kenny was his en suite lover for ten years, but left to live with Alec who is the age Kenny was when he met Rattigan. Alec is a promiscuous bi-sexual who is clearly using Kenny and is the primary reason for his unhappiness. As the play unfolds, we learn that it wasn’t much happier at Rattigan’s, being hidden away and brought out when needed. He flip flops between staying with Alec or returning to Terry as the play continues. 

It’s such a good cast, with Paul Keating a revelation as Kenny; it’s rare to see an actor invest so much emotional energy into a role. I thought Simon Dutton was spot on with his characterisation of Rattigan; a fine performance. Alec is a somewhat unsympathetic character which Pierro Niel-Mee played extremely well. There is a lovely cameo from Marlene Sidaway as landlady Mrs Simpson, nosy and more than a bit bigoted. Lowenna Melrose as Alec’s ‘friend’, Matthew Bulgo as the neighbour and George Irving as the ‘doctor’ Ritter make up this fine cast. It’s sensitively staged by Lucy Bailey with a suitably seedy period design by Robert Innes-Hopkins.

Fascinating play. Fine writing. Excellent staging. Terrific performances. What more can you ask for? Bring on the next two Rattigan’s……

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I’ve always wondered why this early success by favourite playwright Terence Rattigan is rarely revived. I’m afraid it hasn’t aged at all well. The characters are mostly unlikeable, the use of French like an in-joke is irritating and pretentious and the story is completely inconsequential. For the second time this week, I find myself disappointed by Rattigan.

It’s set in a house in France where a bunch of five toffs are in residence learning French for all sorts of reasons, including careers in the diplomatic corps. Diana, the sister of one, is along for the ride as she’s nowhere else to go and she’s portrayed as after anyone in trousers. Monsieur Maingot tries in vain to get them to speak only French. The men behave like only public schoolboys can.

It has nothing to say to a modern audience and just comes over as a bit of a romp – a rather sexist, misogynistic one at that. The production and performances are perfectly ok; its the play that’s the issue. After this and Harlequinade in the same week, I think I’ve decided I only like Rattigan’s serious plays, not his attempts at comedy.

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