Posts Tagged ‘Jermyn Street Theatre’

The Art of Concealment, Jermyn Street Theatre, January 2012

20 January, 2012

Remember Burgess and Maclean, Philby, Blunt? All concealed their treason very cleverly, and all were gay. In those days homosexual actions were a crime, and concealment part of the game. Britain’s great playwright, Terence Rattigan managed it flawlessly, and this play by Giles Cole shows how he concealed his sexual orientation from both parents all their lives. It’s moving, riveting, and sad, because in the end Rattigan cannot let slip the mask he put on, even though concealment was no longer strictly necessary.

Dominic Tighe as the young Rattigan, all images Oscar Blustin

This beautifully crafted play starts as it ends with Alistair Findlay as a world-weary Rattigan at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket in 1977 where Cause Célèbre, revived last year at the Old Vic, was first performed, not long before Rattigan’s death. From there we are transported back to his schooldays at Harrow. Dominic Tighe was superb as a brilliantly self-controlled young Rattigan, and Graham Pountney and Judy Buxton made entirely convincing parents, his father Frank as an utterly charming ladies’ man, and his effervescent mother, so enthusiastic for his success. It’s at Harrow that his father tells the boy the real reason he had to leave the diplomatic service, and though Terry understood his mother’s pain at the turn events took he shared his father’s libido and need to be loved, albeit by men rather than women. His father was warning him to be careful, and he was, but in a different way.

We see a tormented Rattigan, insecure, controlling, occasionally mercurial, but yearning for affection. Fine support here by Christopher Morgan and Graham Pountney as two long-standing gay friends, always in and out of his apartment, and Daniel Bayle and Charlie Hollway as two young lovers.

Judy Buxton as Rattigan's mother

Cole has managed to give us the gay Rattigan, but also the playwright facing his audience, and Judy Buxton doubles as Aunt Edna, his personification of the well-off, middle class woman of conventional tastes for whom he wrote his plays. She eventually speaks her mind, criticising his loss of direction after being faced with the new wave of kitchen sink drama brought about by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. But Rattigan was a brilliant craftsman, an English Chekhov as one biographer has called him, so good at seeing the underlying feelings of others, yet not quite so good at facing himself, and this play allows the young to meet the old. It’s a fascinating study, and Knight Mantell’s production gives it a forward momentum that kept my attention riveted throughout.

Unfortunately the advertised performances are sold out, but there is to be an extra matinée on Thursday, January 26th — for theatre details click here.

And it also looks as if it may move to the King’s Head Theatre in June.

Less Than Kind, by Terence Rattigan, Jermyn Street Theatre, January 2011

26 January, 2011

In 1942 the Beveridge Report backed the idea of central planning for post-war reconstruction, along with a Welfare State and social safety net. “Fair shares for all” was the catchphrase, and Rattigan was sympathetic to these ideas, which inform the opinions of the young man in the play. His name is Michael Brown, a Hamlet-like character who has just rejoined his mother in London after spending five years as an evacuee in Canada. His father has died and his much-loved mother, Olivia is living with a married cabinet minister and ex-industrialist, Sir John Fletcher. Young Michael is outraged and appalled, and this young left-winger (I’m not a communist, I don’t follow the CP line) hates his mother’s partner, and presumptuously decides to bring Sir John’s wife into the affair, innocently thinking she will bust up her husband’s sinful arrangements. She doesn’t. In fact she’s a rather naughty lady who has her own affairs, and in the end she acts as the catalyst to bring everything to a happy conclusion. In the meantime, however, the wretchedly clever and priggish Michael does in fact manage to break up his mother’s relationship.

The title of the play is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 1, sc.2) when the young prince is addressed by his step-father, and says to himself “A little more than kin, and less than kind!” The ‘step-father’ in this play, Sir John Fletcher was brilliantly portrayed by Michael Simkins. He came over as very sharp, very shrewd, and very intelligent, seeing clearly that young Michael with his “Oedipus complex and a passion for self-dramatisation” was consciously acting the part of Hamlet. It’s a clever play, with wonderful dialogue, but Rattigan was persuaded to alter it drastically in rehearsal, and although it was very successful under the title Love in Idleness, Rattigan later regretted his own changes. Fortunately a copy of the original 1944 play survived in the offices of the Lord Chamberlain, and is now staged for the first time!

This production by Adrian Brown, with fine set and costume designs by Suzi Lombardelli, gives a sense of energy to the events, and I found it riveting. The acting is wonderful, with David Osmond being assertively obnoxious as the young Michael, and Caroline Head seductively gorgeous as Sir John’s estranged wife Diana. Michael’s mother was well played by Sara Crowe, though I never felt entirely convinced about her affection for Sir John, and it struck a jarring note when she dialled only five digits on the telephone, instead of seven, and didn’t give the other party time enough to respond. Sir John’s secretary was well played by Vivienne Moore as a conscientiously mousey lady, and Katie Evans was gloriously real as Polton the maid.

This play is a must-see for any Rattigan fans, or indeed for anyone else, but this delightful theatre is small and tickets scarce. Performances continue until February 12th — for more details click here.