Review: After the Dance

English reserve scores for Rattigan

By John Nathan, June 17, 2010

Lyttelton, National Theatre, London SE1

First the Donmar revived Simon Gray's portrait of post-war England and now with Thea Sharrock's beautifully observed, superbly performed production, the National have done the same for Terence Rattigan's rarely seen pre-war offering. Both works reveal the emotions cloaked by English reserve.

Rattigan's dysfunctionals are the upper-class David and Joan Scott-Fowler (Benedict Cumberbatch and Nancy Carroll) who partied through the 1920s and are carrying on in the 1930s as if they were still bright young things. This is a household with no yardarm by which to judge when opening the gin seems unseemly. So constant is the traffic to the drinks table, you worry for the carpet pile.

It is, however, not Joan who halts David's slow alcoholic suicide, but the earnest and in love Helen (Faye Castelow) who knows that David's self-loathing is rooted in his wasted life. Her cure, however, is as painful as David's disease. Her damning judgement of his unpublished history book is excruciatingly truthful. And when she informs Joan that she is to replace her as David's wife, what follows is a devasting solo moment - brilliantly delivered by Carroll - in which that mantle of composure breaks. Rattigan, who before he died in 1977 was embittered by the National's refusal to stage his work, gets his due.

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    Last updated: 12:52pm, June 17 2010