Simon Gray’s play The Late Middle Classes is a funny yet melancholic look at the frustrations, secrets and guilt of middle-class respectability in 1950s England. It was first performed at the Palace Theatre, Watford, on 23 March 1999 (previews from 19 March) and produced on tour by the Ambassadors Theatre Group/Turnstile Group Limited.
The play opens in 'the present'. Holliday ('Holly') Smithers, a man in his forties, has come to visit the ageing Thomas Brownlow, who taught him music as a child. The action then rewinds to the Smithers’ household in the early 1950s. Holly, now a twelve-year-old boy, is caught between his parents’ conflicting emotional needs. His mother Celia is bored to distraction by her marriage and fills her time with tennis and gin. Her pathologist husband, Charles, is buried in his work amongst the living and the dead. As their gifted son, Holly begins to take music lessons with Brownlow, who develops an unhealthy obsession with the child.
The play touches obliquely on the subject of paedophilia and shows us, in the opening and closing scenes, how Brownlow’s connection to Holly has afflicted him his whole life. The play also dissects how children can become vessels for the desires and ambitions of the adults closest to them.
The premiere production was directed by Harold Pinter and designed by Eileen Diss. The cast was Nicholas Woodeson, James Fleet, Sam Bedi, Harriet Walter and Angela Pleasance. Following the performances at the Palace Theatre, Watford, the production toured to Brighton, Plymouth, Bath, Woking and Richmond.
The play was revived at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 1 June 2010 (previews from 27 May) in a production directed by David Leveaux and designed by Mike Britton. The cast was Robert Glenister, Peter Sullivan, Harvey Allpress, Laurence Belcher, Felix Zadeck-Ewing, Helen McCrory and Eleanor Bron.