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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Theatre - After the Dance - National Theatre

Star rating – 8/10

This superb production by Thea Sharrock of a ‘lost’ Terence Rattigan play about the former bright young things between the wars is an absolute gem. The three acts start off with the aftermath of the previous night’s hard drinking in the Mayfair flat of Joan and David Scott-Fowler. David is a rich would be historian who it seems would rather drink himself into an early grave rather than face anything resembling reality. His wife Nancy, the life and soul of the party that is their lives, is happy to sit back and amusedly watch the seemingly innocent infatuation that Helen, the young girlfriend of David’s cousin and assistant Peter, has for her husband.

Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as David, anaesthetising his true emotions with copious quantities of whisky and soda. Nancy Carroll is magnificent as Joan, beautiful and strong on the surface, but vulnerable and fatally wounded by her husband’s infidelity. As the play unfolds, it becomes obvious that beneath the hedonistic party lifestyle there is a deep sadness in the main characters, indeed that David and Joan are deeply in love with each other. Neither is able to reveal this deep affection to the other, after twelve years of a perfectly friendly marriage. Repressed emotion is the order of the day all round.

Light relief is provided excellently by their corpulent houseguest John, as portrayed by Adrian Scarborough. He understands perfectly that is role is to provide constant amusement for David. I can even forgive him the very mean and scathing dismissal of the sooty city of Manchester, as he is so funny and charming, but ultimately wise to what is really going on in the lives of his hosts.

The character of Helen is bent on saving David from himself, and he falls for her somewhat annoying charms as the whole charade comes tumbling down around him. The party scenes are very effective, the costumes beautiful, as they evoke perfectly the style of the period. All in all this is a delight of a play - stylish, and funny yet hauntingly sad and totally evocative of the period. This excellent production is well worth your attention.

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