After the Dance
Paul Johnson | 10 Jul 2014 13:15pm
Following on from the highly successful and better known ‘French Without Tears’, Rattigan’s second play ‘After the Dance’ probably owes its current fame to the fact that the National Theatre’s revival in 2010 starred the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch. Initially opening in June 1939 to favorable reviews, its success was cut short by the outbreak of war, allowing only 60 performances, adding an even greater poignancy to the story itself. Rattigan himself did not include it in his collected works, and it quickly became known as ‘the lost play’. Although rarely performed this is a piece that can easily stand alongside many of Rattigan’s better known works with its themes of repressed emotion and social criticism of those trying to escape reality.
The central characters David Scott-Fowler and his wife Joan have frittered away their youth in a round of hedonistic alcohol ridden parties, thriving on gossip and believing that taking anything seriously is ‘a bore’. Peter, David’s cousin, and his girlfriend Helen, represent the more idealistic younger generation with their Chekovian desire to work. The mad round of parties helps block out not only the memories of the terrible Great War but hide the reality of the next conflict that was looming.
Dan Usztan, through some strong direction, managed to combine moral seriousness with some more light hearted moments in an impressive piece of theatre. Michael Bettell’s functional set of a lavish thirties Mayfair apartment was given an interesting touch with a selection of debris that marked the front of the stage; cards and coins, racquets and empty bottles combined to provide a complex web of symbolic detritus.
The performances were excellent. Lisa Castle was incredibly moving as the seemingly bright and irrepressible Joan Scott-Fowler who has never managed to reveal to her husband just how much she loves him. Her moments of stillness and repressed sobs when she learns he is leaving her for a younger woman, were achingly painful. Dom Ward was convincing as the self-destructive alcoholic historian, who recognises he is wasting his opportunities and believes he sees in Helen the chance of a better life. A clear picture appeared of an intelligent man who throughout the play developed a growing awareness of his own pointlessness. The scene where he and Joan belatedly realise that they have misunderstood each other for most of their married life was beautifully understated in its sadness.
Amy Harrison’s Helen, was performed with an elegant self-confidence which completely captured the personality of this naïve woman on a mission to redeem an older man at the expense of his marriage. Despite her obvious desire to ‘do good’, as an audience we never really wanted her to succeed, and she is certainly not a character we warm to. George Turner, as Peter Scott-Fowler, showed the repressed anquish of the level-headed, young cousin who had only allowed himself a few chaste kisses with his intended and did not feel it necessary to drink before dinner. This later surfaces as a heart-breaking sense of bitterness at the way life has treated him.
From the moment he emerged from under a dust sheet Joel Cottrell gave a witty, touching performance as the supposedly opportunistic friend, John, delivering his one-liners with great aplomb. It is only in the third and fourth acts we gradually begin to see that there is a deeper sense of morality slowly coming to the fore. He painted a world of babies in Balham with just the right amount of caustic humour, only then to end up working for a window cleaning business in Manchester.
There were also some strong cameo performances by other members of the cast, notably Philippa Tatham as the overbearing Julia and Ruth Antony, who performed both her role as the drunken aviator, Moya and the stony faced, acerbic Miss Potter to great effect. However, the company as a whole worked well together to create the ensemble scenes and provided appropriate characterisations which added to the overall feel of the period.
The fact that this beautifully written play was crafted just before the war began adds to the pathos of the piece. It epitomises the self-destructive nature of the ‘bright young things’, who saw the world they had known destroyed and were not ready to accept that it might take place all over again. The haunting use of the 1920 foxtrot, ‘Avalon’, and some beautiful costumes sourced by Jessica Hammett all helped to make this an excellent piece of theatre and well worth the journey from South London. Running till this Saturday, July 12th, I would definitely recommend a visit!
- : admin
- : 09/07/2014