Posts Tagged ‘Susan Tracy’

It’s hard to imagine two plays more different than the current pairing at the Finborough. 70’s Glasgow gangsters to 50’s British socialites on the French Riviera! This is the first time in 50 years this Terence Rattigan play has been seen in London. It comes from the period when he was overshadowed by the angry young men (who get an obvious snipe here) and he only wrote three more plays in the following twenty years until he died. It’s flawed but fascinating.

Rose has bought a place on the Riviera where she can gamble and party to her hearts content. She has three husbands behind her, a teenage daughter and a housekeeper who is titled but destitute after a life of gambling! She’s about to marry No. 4, a filthy rich German with a dubious black market background but more than enough money to fund her lifestyle, when she meets British ballet dancer Ron(!) who sweeps her away. She flip-flops between Ron and Kurt for the rest of the play, her health deteriorating, with housekeeper and mother figure Hettie and Ron’s choreographer and father-figure Sam eventually warning her off the dancer.

Based to some extent on Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias, this is unlike the more restrained and emotionally repressed Rattigan plays that came before it, but prepares the way for the more open ones, like Cause Celebre, that followed. There’s gambling, adultery, hints of homosexuality and a whole load of dysfunctionality that must have been a bit of a shock in 1957. In truth, there’s a bit too much flip-flopping (you find yourself wanting to shout out ‘oh, make your bloody mind up’), it doesn’t sustain it’s length and it lacks subtlety, but it’s well worth this stylish revival.

Rachel Stirling is outstanding as Rose, looking gorgeous in a whole wardrobe of elegant period clothes, Susan Tracy is simply marvellous as the somewhat improbable Hettie and there’s an excellent performance from David Shelley as Sam, who shines in his crucial second act scene with Rose. Fontini Dimou has worked wonders creating a Riviera villa terrace in this space and her costumes are superb.

Can we have French Without Tears now, please?!

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Chichester Festival Theatre will certainly get first prize when it comes to celebrating this Rattigan centenary. There are two revivals, a new play written as a ‘response’ to one of them, a play created from an unproduced screenplay and six rehearsed readings. Well, that puts our national companies to shame!

The Deep Blue Sea

Many consider this his finest play, though after recent revivals of After the Dance and Flare Path, I would question that. The first production I saw at the Almeida with Penelope Wilton was wonderful, but the second, by Edward Hall with Greta Scacchi, was a fusty mannered museum piece.

Unfortunately, I was in the Donmar the night before this, so seeing an intimate play in the vast Chichester main house space it was very hard to get involved, even from the ninth row. I really missed the proximity which the Minerva would have given it; I wasn’t moved.

Hester has left her knighted husband to live with the laddish Freddie. The play starts when she is discovered in front of the gas fire with the evidence of too much asprin at her side. Not knowing the whereabouts of Freddie, a neighbour contacts her ex. who rushes to her aid. Freddie returns and discovers her suicide note and thus begins the breakdown of their relationship. The ex. makes a bid for reunion, but this fails, so Hester is left alone.

It’s well designed and staged and the acting is uniformly good; Amanda Root is a fine Hester, Anthony Calf is very good as the ex. I particularly liked John Hopkin’s passionate Freddie and there is a lovely cameo from Susan Tracy as the landlady. In this space, though, I just couldn’t get involved as much as you need to┬ábe moved by this fine play that was way ahead of its time and, somewhat ironically, as radical in its way as the ‘angry young men’ that took Rattigan’s place at the heart of post-war British drama.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky

This late career screenplay about the life of dancer Nijinsky was never produced by the BBC, apparently because of objections from his wife. Unstageable in its written form, Nicholas Wright has created a play both about it and from it.

We’re in Rattigan’s Claridges suite shortly after his arrival from his Bermuda home, here to finalise the production of his screenplay. He gets visits from the man at the BBC and Nijinsky’s wife Romola, but the play is mostly imagined scenes from the screenplay / life of Nijinsky played out in front of us. It was a fascinating life, so it’s a fascinating story. The idea of the structure is better than the result, though, and it felt a bit clumsy – ‘now lets show the audition of Nijinsky as child’, ‘lets move to where he begins hid relationship with Diaghilev’, ‘OK, time for the journey to Buenos Aires’. Interesting story, but a play that ultimately doesn’t work.

Again, the design by Mike Britton and Philip Franks’ staging are fine and it suits the big space better than The Deep Blue Sea. Malcolm Sinclair as Rattigan and Jonathan Hyde as Diaghilev are very good and there’s good support from a large cast, most playing two or three roles. Again, Susan Tracy gives fine cameos as Romola Nijinsky and Rattigan’s mother.

Overall, this pair didn’t live up to expectations, but that doesn’t take away Chichester’s crown as Rattigan’s champion in this centenary year.

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