That a play so hopelessly dated in its social aspect can, in this luminous production, be seen to retain its pinpoint emotional and psychological accuracy shows how much we lost in consigning Rattigan to the Obsolete shelf during the angry-young-men revolution of the 1950s.
Suicidal protagonist Hester's husband may be a judge and the lover for whom she's left him a wartime flying ace-turned-test pilot; the inscrutable Dr Miller may be living above them in a Ladbroke Grove rooming house because he once did something "ordinary, normal people" don't forgive; Rattigan himself may today be thought cowardly for what he called the "sex-change dishonesty" which led him to make his central character female (the play was triggered by the suicide of his ex-lover Kenneth Morgan)... but his dissection of the destructive capacity of love is spellbindingly acute.
Penelope Wilton as Hester breathes painful, terrific life into the cliché about being unable to live either with or without the immature, increasingly alcoholic Freddie (Linus Roache, at once dashing and pathetic). Nicholas Jones's husband William (the epitome of diffident middle-class spanielling, always exhorting Hester to return just once more to him), and a supporting cast ranging from Wojtek Pszoniak (Robespierre opposite Depardieu in Andrzej Wajda's film Danton, whose subtly eloquent face more than makes up for his limited English inflections) to a rather limp Edward Tudor-Pole, complete the agonising precision of Karel Reisz's production. A compelling case for Rattigan's rehabilitation.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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