Terence Rattigan's Less Than Kind is an early version of a play that, after extensive rewriting, he called Love in Idleness, and which, in its later form, was first produced at the Lyric Theatre, London, on 20 December 1944. Less Than Kind was itself never performed in his lifetime; it was eventually premiered at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London, on 20 January 2011 as part of the Rattigan centenary.
The play is about a idealistic young man, Michael Brown, who returns home to London from his wartime schooling in Canada to find that his widowed mother Olivia has become the mistress of a leading Tory cabinet member, Sir John Fletcher – a man who represents the antithesis of everything Michael believes. The play brings into sharp ideological conflict the values of the pre-war and the post-war world, with an emphasis on their material and economic underpinnings.
Less Than Kind switches genre throughout, touching on society comedy, farce, domestic melodrama, psychological thriller, and political drama. It draws closely on Hamlet for its plot, with its Oedipal conflict between an idealistic young man and the powerful usurper who holds his mother in thrall. Even the play's title is taken from Hamlet's description of his uncle, ‘a little more than kin, and less than kind’.
Rattigan never produced a final performance draft of Less Than Kind; instead he was sidetracked into turning it into a rather different play, Love in Idleness. A full account of the differences between Love in Idleness and Less Than Kind is given by Dan Rebellato in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition (2011), which contains the texts of both plays.
The Jermyn Street premiere was directed by Rattigan’s former friend and lover, Adrian Brown, with Michael Simkins as Sir John Fletcher, David Osmond as Michael and Sara Crowe as Olivia.