The CultureCritic guide to Terence Rattigan...
Suddenly Terence Rattigan is the dramatist of the moment, which has more than a little to do with it being the playwright's 100th birthday. Not that he's privy to the celebrations - he died in 1977 having seen his once enormous popularity dwindle dramatically from the 1950s onwards. Critics, and the theatre-going public, fell out of love with his portrayals of the repressed upper-middle classes and he became increasingly seen as pedestrian and conservative in his adherence to the structure of the well-made play with which he was rigidly associated in the UK. Mention of the theatrical innovation demonstrated in John Osborne's radical Look Back in Anger (1956), Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot (1953) and the rise of the kitchen-sink drama are rarely absent in accounts of Rattigan's decline.
A reappraisal's in full flow, however. ‘Shakespeare, Chekhov and me' was his famously overblown claim, but Thea Sharrock wholeheartedly endorsed the Chekhov comparison on the Culture Show recently, and her staging of his 1939 play After The Dance at the National Theatre won Best Revival at the Lawrence Olivier Awards. Elsewhere there's a hive of Rattigan related activity to celebrate his centenary. The BFI are paying tribute to his none too modest contribution to film (he wrote the adapted screenplay for the original 1945 Brighton Rock among other things). This month on CultureCritic we're featuring another Thea Sharrock production, Rattigan's final play Cause Célèbre at the Old Vic, Trevor Nunn's production of Flare Path starring Sienna Miller, and Sarah Esdaile's staging of The Deep Blue Sea which has just closed, a play that director Terence Davies is also currently filming with Rachel Weisz in the starring role.
It's easy to speculate on the reasons for Rattigan's resurgence; could it be that in tough economic times theatergoers are yearning for a little nostalgic escapism, to a simpler age? Or is it that a previously ignored depth and complexity to Rattigan's work is only now coming to light? It's a case that's been well made before, and seems a fertile area for exploration given Rattigan's position as a man whose private life (as a closeted homosexual) and work both embodied stringent repression. Here at CultureCritic we thought we'd look at five of the recent revivals of Rattigan's better-known plays, and take a shot at getting to grips with his new-found relevance.
Separate Tables (1954)
2009, Chichester Festival Theatre
Features two one-act plays set in the same Bournemouth hotel, the action separated by a few months. A touching play, the repression Rattigan experienced implicit and explicit, in the fact that he had to modify the original script, changing the nature of a mild sexual offence. His mastery with characterisation made itself felt in this 2009 revival. Whatsonstage.com called it ‘a perfect psychological study' and The Telegraph claimed ‘there are moments here that are as moving as Chekhov and as painful as Strindberg'. Rita Hayworth and Burt Lancaster starred in a 1948 film version.
The Winslow Boy (1946)
2009, On Tour
Rattigan's acute strength in documenting his specific historical moment became apparent in 2009 with this version of his Edwardian-set drama, which highlights, as the Evening Standard stated ‘the hunchbacked repressions of Victorian society'. Based on real events, an upper class family fights to save their young son's reputation when he is accused of theft. The Times praised its contemporary relevance, calling it ‘topical in a deep sense'. It's also very witty, although that's not immediately apparent in this clip from the 1948 film version:
After The Dance (1939)
2010, National Theatre, London
This amusing but ultimately devastating critique of the bright young things of the 1920s was not a success upon its release - it didn't return to the West End until this production in autumn 2010 by Thea Sharrock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. ‘A neglected classic has finally been honoured' was The Telegraph's reaction, and praise was high for both the staging and the original play, which The Times called ‘a harsh piece of emotional archaeology'.
The Deep Blue Sea (1952)
2011, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
The West Yorkshire Playhouse's production closed on Saturday. Their version of this heartbreaking tale about an unlikely relationship didn't enjoy the same dizzying praise as some of the revivals featured here, though not on the writer's account. ‘Rattigan's play is a masterpiece, you just wouldn't know it from this,' said the Guardian. Despite the play's reputation as one of Rattigan's frankest attempts to deal with his sexuality, Whatsonstage.com claimed they were reminded why he ‘fell out of favour for so long. While the emotions on display are undoubtedly timeless, their presentation does feel dated.'
Flare Path (1942)
2011, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Trevor Nunn's version starring Sienna Miller is currently enjoying an excellent reception (get your tickets here). It's a wartime love-triangle, based on Rattigan's own experiences in the RAF. The depth and subtlety of his writing is what's exciting the critics: ‘there's no mistaking Rattigan's talent for depicting repressed emotion and tragicomic acts of concealment' say the Evening Standard, with the Financial Times asserting ‘the real draw here is Rattigan's compassionate portrayal of an array of characters trying to do their bit, burying their fear beneath banter and booze'.
For more information about all Rattigan-related goings on this year click here.
Sorry no reviews have been returned.
- Opera & Dance