Sunday, 20 June 2010

After the Dance.

To the National to see a poised and stylish revival of Terence Rattigan's beautifully crafted After the Dance. No one is sure where to place Rattigan's work now. He was the most high profile casualty of the angry young men - who from1956 onwards drove theatrical juggernauts all over his well tended lawns. When I was at University he was seen as a reactionary conservative uninteresting and conformist, but in the last fifteen years or so he's been reclaimed and is now seen as a being a radical social commentator drawing unswervingly accurate portraits of London society caught in a sentimental reverie unaware of and unable to effect the changing world around them. Is it self-portraiture? Did Rattigan willing offer his throat and those of all the other 'bright young things' to John Osborne, Ken Tynan and the fury of those living in the shadow of their war hero fathers?

Is the suicide of Joan, the charming, but indulgent hostess wife a form of self sacrifice? Is her harsh, pragmatic, truth telling. replacement Helen, both a blueprint for a more honest future and a sharp warning for the accompanying destruction? There is more than a hint in this piece, early as it is in his canon of great work, that Rattigan knew his time was rapidly coming to an end.

Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as David Scott-Fowler, the casual protagonist, struggling hard to raise himself up to the expectations others have for him. Nancy Carroll is wonderful as his discarded wife and Adrian Scarborough, as the happy parasite John, gives a superb turn wringing every ironic inflection out of the rich text.

The play is a complicated and rather delicious mix of nostalgia and recognition. Rattigan is no Chekhov or Ibsen, but he cared deeply about humanity and used his craft to to sensitise us to the emotional conflicts that we unwittingly, and occasionally destructively, inflict when we tell each other the truth. In a world about to discover the horror of the death camps it was an untenably polite position to hold.

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