By: Terence Rattigan
Directed by: Philip Franks
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Monday 1st August 2011
Given the intimate nature of Rattigan’s writing, it was a surprise to see that this was being staged in the main house. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, and with a more open set than I’m used to for this play my expectations were kept nice and low. Fortunately, as this is one of my favourites, the performance overcame these conditions to tell the story superbly well. I cried buckets, and of course there were a lot of laughs too, as well as the shocked reaction to the shilling incident. Full marks all round for a great evening.
The set had the room floor clearly marked out, with rubble lying outside the walls, representing the debris still left over from the war. The back wall had the kitchen nook on the far left, main door in the centre, and bedroom door far right. There was a dining table between these doors with a sideboard against the wall behind it. In front and to the right was a chaise longue coming forward, with a chair in the centre and a large footstool to the left. The gas fire and meter were at the front of the stage. There was a coat rack in a corner beside the door, and a picture hanging on the back wall, with several others stacked in odd corners. The overall effect was drab and dingy, if spacious.
On such a large stage, the performances had to be bigger than usual, and as we were nice and close they did seem a bit over the top at first. I soon realised what was going on, and adjusted my own perceptions so as to tone down the effect, and the rest of the production went just fine. The young couple who dominate the first section are meant to be crass in any case, as a contrast to the more sympathetic and understanding characters of Mrs Elton and Mr Miller, so it all worked well.
The individual performances were all very good. Susan Tracy was lovely as Mrs Elton, all concern and sympathy, but completely unable to keep a secret under the slightest of pressure. Faye Castelow was perfect as the nosy young wife, Ann Welch, with just the right gleam of pleasure in her eye at the thought of the potential scandal she was witnessing first hand. Later on, she showed us her character’s vulnerable side, when she admits that she doesn’t like being alone at night. Joseph Drake matched her nicely with his portrayal of Philip Welch, so bossy and manly, and just as judgemental as his wife given the chance. I love the way Hester turns his own pretensions back on him when she locks him in the room, telling him it’s another chance to study human nature. Both husband and wife have a lot to learn, but I like the fact that Rattigan shows us their humanity to soften our feelings towards them.
Ewan Wardrop drew the short straw of playing Jackie Jackson, a sounding-board for Freddie with not much else to do, but he did a fine job with this small part. Anthony Calf was magnificent as Sir William Collyer. When he first arrived he appeared very uptight and angry, but I could see that this was a combination of his formal judicial manner and his great love and concern for Hester. He never fully unbends, but even so, we get to see what Hester has left behind, the good and the not so good, including their shared friends and experiences. I was very touched by his kindness and reserved expressions of love – he didn’t want to cause Hester any pain, even though he was enormously distressed to be losing her all over again. This was an exemplary Rattigan performance, with the restraint showing us so much more than a direct expression.
John Hopkins gave us a jollier Freddie than I’ve seen before. While he must have been affected by his wartime experiences, he seemed the sort of chap who wouldn’t have been good at relationships anyway. His borrowing of the shilling was more of a temper tantrum than malicious, and I could sympathise with his difficulties to some extent. Pip Donaghy gave us a splendid Mr Miller, the ex-doctor who helps Hester find a way to face the future. He didn’t play the foreign background as strongly as some I’ve seen, but the impression of an outsider who has lost a great deal and seen much suffering was still there. And finally Amanda Root, as Hester, was the lynchpin of this excellent production. She ranged from the rowing ‘wife’ who lashes out in temper to the restrained woman who wouldn’t dream of even admitting to an emotion, let alone one strong enough to kill oneself over. The change at the end, when she says goodbye to Freddie, was noticeable, but as she had her back to us I’ll have to get the detail when we see it next time from a different angle. We’re looking forward to it.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me