Star rating – 8/10
Thea Sharrock is becoming something of an expert at directing the fine plays of Terence Rattigan, her last offering being the National’s excellent if lesser known ‘After the Dance’ last year. With ‘Cause Célèbre’ at the Old Vic she is on more familiar territory for much of the audience, this being a more oft performed work, and is also much loved. But again she hits the spot exactly, aided by another great cast, this time with the excellent Anne-Marie Duff and Niamh Cusack in the two leading female roles.
This is a real life tale of adultery and murder which ends up in a court room drama. The fragile Duff plays Alma Rattenbury, who was tried in 1935, along with her much younger lover, for the murder of her elderly husband. Cusack is Edith Davenport, a fictional member of the jury who is so prejudiced against Alma at the start that she asks to be excused from sitting in judgement on her. But the wheels of English justice don’t stop for a bit of old fashioned prejudice, and as the play unfolds, so the sexually repressed attitudes that have so condemned Alma, are questioned and challenged.
The clever juxtaposition is that Alma’s indiscretion and lose morals, is set against Edith’s own personal experiences of a husband who has been unfaithful but is begging her for forgiveness, if only for the sake of their child, and trying to persuade her that marriages can last beyond a bit of sexual infidelity. Edith’s young son has also picked up a nasty sexually transmitted disease from a prostitute, and so she is doubly forced to confront her own moral compass in relation to Alma’s crime.
The court room scenes are brilliantly played, and the staging of the play here on two levels at the same time is very effectively done. Duff is totally believable as the upper class Alma, showing her impressive range of acting skills off to great effect. The costumes are beautiful, and the evening a success again for Rattigan in the capable hands of Sharrock.