Terence Rattigan

Plays by Terence Rattigan

After the Dance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance – an attack on the hedonistic lifestyle of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 30s – signalled a more serious direction in his writing after the relative frivolity of the hugely successful French Without Tears. It was first produced at the St James’s Theatre, London, on 21 June l939.

The play's action takes place in the drawing-room of the Scott-Fowlers’ flat in Mayfair, a fashionable part of London. David Scott-Fowler is a successful writer who revels in his hard-drinking and hard-partying lifestyle. He and his wife Joan are still clinging to their Twenties heydays, and are joined in their plush flat by parasitic lodger, John. However, not everyone is convinced by their constant jollities. David’s cousin Peter and his earnest wife Helen remain unimpressed by their almost wilful evasion of their responsibilities. Helen’s attempt to reform David sparks a relationship between the two that turns to love. As a result, Joan, unable to wrestle her husband back, throws herself off the balcony during one of their parties. In the final act, John persuades David, now a broken man, that his relationship with Helen will not survive the heartbreak of losing Joan. But David has no intention of learning from past mistakes and would rather drink himself to death than face the reality of his home life and the looming threat of global war

The premiere production was directed by Michael Macowan, with Martin Walker as John Reid, Hubert Gregg as Peter Scott-Fowler, Gordon Court as Williams, Catherine Lacey as Joan Scott-Fowler, Anne Firth as Helen Banner, Robert Kempson as Dr George Banner, Viola Lyel as Julia Browne, Leonard Coppins as Cyril Carter, Robert Harris as David Scott-Fowler, Millicent Wolf as Moya Lexington, Osmund Willson as Lawrence Walters, Henry Caine as Arthur Power and Lois Heatherley as Miss Potter.

The production opened in June 1939 to euphoric reviews, but only a month later the European crisis was darkening the national mood and audiences began to dwindle. The play was pulled in August after only sixty performances.

The play subsequently sank into obscurity until a BBC TV revival in 1994. It was revived by the Oxford Stage Company at Salisbury Playhouse in October 2002, and subsequently at the National Theatre, London, in June 2010 in a production directed by Thea Sharrock with a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Nancy Carroll and Adrian Scarborough.

audio The Browning Version

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In Terence Rattigan’s classic drama, an aging schoolmaster at an English secondary school faces the harsh judgments of his students, his fellow teachers, and his vicious and spiteful wife. But can a lone act of kindness from a sympathetic student change his heart?

This recording also includes an interview with Michael Darlow, the author of “Terence Rattigan: The Man and His Work”. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Steven Brand as Frank Hunter Martin Jarvis as Andrew Crocker-Harris Ian Ogilvy as The Headmaster Darren Richardson as Peter Gilbert Devon Sorvari as Mrs. Gilbert Kate Steele as Millie Crocker-Harris Daniel Stewart as John Taplow Directed by Peter Levin. Recorded by L.A. Theatre Works before a live audience.

Featuring: Steven Brand, Martin Jarvis, Ian Ogilvy, Darren Richardson, Devon Sorvari, Kate Steele, Daniel Stewart

The Browning Version

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version is a one-act play about an unpopular schoolmaster who, faced with the collapse of his career and marriage, snatches a last shred of dignity when he receives an unexpected gift from a pupil. It was premiered in a double-bill with the one-act farce Harlequinade under the joint title Playbill at the Phoenix Theatre, London, on 8 September 1948.

The play is set in the sitting-room of Arthur Crocker-Harris, a classics teacher at a boys' public school in the South of England, just as he is about to retire because of ill health. He is an unpopular teacher known for his strict discipline and stern lack of humour, and his younger wife Millie, embittered by his lack of passion and ambition, is having an affair with another teacher, Frank Hunter. But when John Taplow, a hitherto unremarkable pupil, makes Crocker-Harris a gift of a second-hand copy of Robert Browning’s translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, the unexpected gesture sets in motion a series of actions that force him to reflect on his past and confront his future.

The Phoenix Theatre premiere was directed by Peter Glenville, with Peter Scott as John Taplow, Hector Ross as Frank Hunter, Mary Ellis as Millie Crocker-Harris, Campbell Cotts as Andrew Crocker-Harris, Eric Portman as Dr Frobisher, Anthony Oliver as Peter Gilbert and Henryetta Edwards as Mrs Gilbert.

The play was unanimously praised by the critics and went on to win the Ellen Terry Award for the best new play produced in London, the second time Rattigan had won the prize, having won it previously for The Winslow Boy. It has become perhaps the most highly regarded of his plays, with frequent revivals – both in its original form, as a double-bill with Harlequinade, and on its own. In 1980, The Browning Version and Harlequinade were the first Rattigan plays to be performed at the National Theatre, featuring Alec McCowen as Crocker-Harris, Geraldine McEwan as Millie and Nicky Henson as Frank Hunter.

The Browning Version has been filmed twice: in 1951, directed by Anthony Asquith with a screenplay by Rattigan, starring Michael Redgrave as Crocker-Harris; and in 1994, directed by Mike Figgis, with Albert Finney in the lead role.

Cause Célèbre

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Cause Célèbre is a drama based on the real-life story of Alma Rattenbury, who in 1935 went on trial with her eighteen-year-old lover for the murder of her husband. Rattigan originally wrote the play for radio, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27 October 1975. He later adapted it for the stage, and this version was first performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 4 July 1977. It proved to be his final play, and was still playing in the West End at the time of his death on 30 November 1977.

The action of the play takes place in Bournemouth and London in 1934 and 1935. It begins with Alma Rattenbury being charged in court with the murder of her husband, the architect Francis Rattenbury. Francis was in his fifties when he married Alma, a young gifted pianist in her twenties. Their relationship quickly cooled, leaving the door open for Alma to embark on a passionate affair with George, one of the Rattenbury’s employees. When Francis is found dead, the finger is immediately pointed at Alma and the play follows her arrest and the ensuing trial. Rattigan adds an extra dimension by pitting Alma against a female juror, Edith Davenport, whose own life offers a counterpoint to Alma's.

The premiere of the stage version at Her Majesty’s Theatre was directed by Robin Midgley and designed by Adrian Vaux, with Glynis Johns as Alma Rattenbury and Helen Lindsay as Edith Davenport. It received a clutch of positive reviews. Many critics commented on Rattigan’s failing health and exhibited a generosity of spirit towards his writing legacy, his reputation having suffered since the late 1950s.

The play received a major revival as part of the Rattigan Centenary celebrations at The Old Vic, London, from 17 March 2011 in a production directed by Thea Sharrock with Anne-Marie Duff as Alma and Niamh Cusack as Edith.

The play's relationship with the real-life case that inspired it is explored in detail by Dan Rebellato in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition of the play (2011). Rebellato also examines the textual differences between the radio and stage versions of the play. His conclusion is that Cause Célèbre is 'a defiant defence of sexual desire, emotional honesty, and a ferocious attack on the moral pieties of middle-class, middle-brow Middle England'.

The Deep Blue Sea

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea is a portrait of a woman caught between forbidden love and the fear of loneliness, or the devil and the deep blue sea. It is now considered one of Rattigan's greatest triumphs. The play was first produced at the Duchess Theatre, London, on 6 March 1952.

The play's action takes place in the sitting-room of a furnished flat in a tenement block in the north-west of London, over the course of a single day. It begins with the discovery of a body lying in front of a gas fire. Hester Collyer has left her barrister husband, Sir William Collyer, to live with Freddie Page, an alcoholic fighter pilot from the last war. Injured beyond endurance by his continual failure to return her passion, she has tried to commit suicide, and has only failed because the gas meter ran out before she could complete the act. She is discovered by four other residents of the tenement block: a married couple, Philip and Ann Welch, the landlady, Mrs Elton, and a mysterious ex-doctor, Mr Miller. The play follows Hester through the rest of the day as the consequences of her attempt induce Freddie to leave her, and threaten to push her towards a second suicide attempt.

Commentators have drawn parallels between Hester’s tragic story and that of Rattigan’s ex-lover, Kenneth Morgan, who committed suicide on 28 February 1949. Both homosexuality and attempted suicide were illegal in the 1950s, which is perhaps part of what draws Hester to the ex-doctor Mr Miller, who has been struck off the medical list for an offence that is only hinted at, but which is clearly homosexuality. The portrait of Hester has been highly praised for its emotional resonance and its portrayal of depression and the shame that it can evoke in its sufferer.

The premiere at the Duchess Theatre was directed by Frith Banbury, with David Aylmer as Philip Welch, Barbara Leake as Mrs Elton, Ann Walford as Ann Welch, Peggy Ashcroft as Hester Collyer, Peter Illing as Mr Miller, Roland Culver as William Collyer, Kenneth More as Freddie Page and Raymond Francis as Jackie Jackson.

In his introduction accompanying the published edition of the play (Nick Hern Books, 1999), Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato describes the play as 'a towering and brutally bleak meditation on the cruel consequences of one skirmish between sexual desire and social repression'.

video The Deep Blue Sea (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+ (contains references to suicide)

Recorded through National Theatre Live on 1st September, 2016.

A flat in Ladbroke Grove, West London. 1952. When Hester Collyer is found by her neighbours in the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt, the story of her tempestuous affair with a former RAF pilot and the breakdown of her marriage to a High Court judge begins to emerge. With it comes a portrait of need, loneliness and long-repressed passion. Behind the fragile veneer of post-war civility burns a brutal sense of loss and longing.

Terence Rattigan’s devastating masterpiece contains one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama. Helen McCrory and director Carrie Cracknell reunited following the acclaimed Medea in 2014.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

Mrs Elton: Marion Bailey
Philip Welch: Hubert Burton
Ann Welch: Yolanda Kettle
Hester Collyer: Helen McCrory
Mr Miller: Nick Fletcher
Freddie Page: Tom Burke
Jackie Jackson: Adetomiwa Edun

Director: Carrie Cracknell
Writer: Terence Rattigan
Designer: Tom Scutt
Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare
Music: Stuart Earl
Movement Director: Polly Bennett
Sound Designer: Peter Rice
Fight Director: Kate Waters


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Duologue is a short monologue play for a female actor in which a woman reminisces movingly about her dead husband.

The play began life as a piece for television entitled All On Her Own, broadcast on BBC2 on 25 September 1968. It formed part of a series called A Touch of Venus (subtitled: ‘Women Alone’) comprising short monologues for women written by established playwrights. It was performed by Margaret Leighton and produced by Hal Burton.

It was later performed on stage at the Overground Theatre, Kingston, Surrey, in October 1974, still as All On Her Own. Rattigan then revised the text and retitled it Duologue for a production at the King’s Head Theatre, London, starring Barbara Jefford, in a double bill with The Browning Version, with its first performance on 21 February 1976.

The play is set in a large house in Hampstead, north London. Rosemary Hodge is a widow who returns from a party and, a little drunkenly, starts addressing her dead husband Gregory. Through her reflections and recriminations, she comes to a sad realisation about their relationship, her behaviour, and the nature of his death.

With its intimate, conversational style, Duologue can be seen as a forerunner to Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series twenty years later.

First Episode

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan’s professional debut as a playwright, First Episode was co-authored with his fellow undergraduate Philip Heimann whilst they were both studying at the University of Oxford. It was first performed at the Q Theatre, Kew, London, on 11 September 1933. It subsequently transferred (with a slightly revised text) to the West End, opening at the Comedy Theatre on 19 January 1934, where it enjoyed a moderately successful run.

The play is set in a thinly disguised Oxford. With three weeks to go before their final exams, its main characters gamble, booze and are heavily involved in a production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The drama stems from the fact that Tony, the show’s director and male lead, is besotted by his imported professional co-star, Margot Gresham. The mature Margot, however, makes a far bigger investment in their affair than Tony and, when things unravel, she realises her lover’s closest bond is with his oldest friend, David.

As Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato writes in his introduction to his edition of the play (Nick Hern Books, 2011), 'The story has, in some ways, a very conventional shape: it is a love triangle. Usually, such stories involve two men as rivals for the love of a woman, or perhaps two women competing for the love of a man. In First Episode, we see a man and a woman, David and Margot, battling for the love of a man, Tony.'

The play’s frank (for the times) depiction of undergraduate life, and its homosexual subtext, provoked outrage in some quarters, and Rattigan was forced to make some changes and deletions to satisfy the requirements of the Lord Chamberlain, British theatre’s official censor. This definitive edition, prepared by Dan Rebellato from the six extant versions of the play, restores most of those deletions, while aiming to offer the most coherent and satisfying version of the play.

The Q Theatre premiere was directed by Muriel Pratt and performed by Max Adrian, Owen Griffith, Noel Dryden, Meriel Forbes-Robertson, Patrick Waddington, Rosalinde Fuller, Vincent King and Robert Syers.

Joining the cast when it transferred to the Comedy Theatre were Angus L. MacLeod, William Fox, Barbara Hoffe and Jack Allen.

The play received its US premiere at the Ritz Theatre, New York, on 17 September 1934 in a production directed by Haddon Mason.

Flare Path

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Flare Path, written while he was serving as an air gunner with the RAF during the Second World War, is a story of love and loyalty following a group of RAF airmen and their wives over the course of one day. It was first produced (after a short run in Oxford) at the Apollo Theatre, London, on 13 August 1942.

The play is set in The Falcon, a small hotel in Lincolnshire, close to an RAF base. We meet a series of airmen and their wives, as well as the imperious landlady and her staff. Into this hotel walks Peter Kyle, a famous British film actor, who has come to whisk his lover Patricia Graham away. The only problem is that Patricia is married to Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham. She has been putting off telling her husband of her affair. However, Peter and Patricia’s elopement is delayed by the sudden announcement of a bombing raid; the airmen take off and they all return but one. Count Striczevinsky, a Polish airman stationed with the RAF, sent out a distress signal, but then nothing was heard and he is presumed lost at sea. The emotional stresses of war are felt by all, notably Teddy, who fears he may have lost his nerve. Patricia is moved by his need for her and resolves to give up Peter; Peter seems unwilling to accept this and plans to tell Teddy himself. However, reading a letter from the Count to his wife, Doris, he has a change of heart and leaves. At the last minute, the inhabitants of the hotel are joyfully surprised by the return of the Count, whose long and eventful journey back is the cause for impromptu celebration as the curtain falls.

Rattigan's script (originally entitled Next of Kin but renamed Flare Path at the suggestion of his psychiatrist, Dr Keith O. Newman, who found the original too bland) was rejected by two of the principal backers of his earlier West End hit French Without Tears on the assumption that the last thing that the public wanted was a play about the war. It was however accepted by Hugh ‘Binkie’ Beaumont at H. M. Tennent Ltd., already on his way to becoming the most powerful and successful West End producer of the era.

The production was directed by Anthony Asquith, with Adrianne Allen as Countess Skriczevinsky (Doris), Martin Walker as Peter Kyle, Dora Gregory as Mrs Oakes, Leslie Dwyer as Sergeant Miller (Dusty), George Cole as Percy, Gerard Hinze as Flying Officer Count Skriczevinsky, Jack Watling as Flight Lieutenant Graham (Teddy), Phyllis Calvert as Patricia Warren (Mrs Graham), Kathleen Harrison as Mrs Miller (Maudie), Ivan Samson as Squadron Leader Swanson and John Bradley as Corporal Jones (Wiggy).

The play was well received by the critics, though several found fault with the happy ending, summed up by Roger Manvell in the New Statesman & Nation as a ‘wanton sacrifice to the wishes of the audience’. Nevertheless, audiences responded enthusiastically, and the play ran at the Apollo for almost 700 performances, a remarkable success for a war play. It re-established Rattigan’s reputation and was the first of five successive box-office successes that put him in the front rank of West End playwrights.

Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato, in his introduction to the play (Nick Hern Books, 2011), notes that 'There is a curious side-story to this production; Dr Keith Newman decided to watch 250 performances of this play and write up the insights that his ‘serial attendance’ had afforded him. George Bernard Shaw remarked that such playgoing behaviour ‘would have driven me mad; and I am not sure that [Newman] came out of it without a slight derangement’. Shaw’s caution was wise. In late 1945, Newman went insane and eventually died in a psychiatric hospital.'

Twentieth Century Fox paid Rattigan £20,000 for the film rights – a remarkable sum at the time. Even so, the film was never made, though aspects of Flare Path make their way into The Way to the Stars (1945), one of the finest British movies of the period, with a screenplay by Terence Rattigan and Richard Sherman.

The play was revived as part of the Rattigan Centenary celebrations at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, on 10 March 2011 in a production directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Sienna Miller and James Purefoy as Patricia and Peter, with Sheridan Smith as Doris. It was the first major London revival of the play since 1942.

French Without Tears

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The play that forged Terence Rattigan’s reputation as a playwright, French Without Tears was an enormous – and unexpected – success on its premiere at the Criterion Theatre, London, where it was first performed on 6 November 1936. It ran there for 1,039 performances, becoming London’s biggest theatrical hit of the 1930s and making stars of its leading cast and a rich man of its young author.

The action of the play revolves around a group of male friends who have been sent to a ‘cram school’ in France to help prepare them for their exams. But the boys are more interested in chasing girls than learning French. All of them are lured in by and simultaneously disdainful of the flirtatious and confident Diana, who proceeds to seduce each of them in turn. The men claim that she is the one distracting them from the task at hand, and thus potentially damaging their future careers. The play is a portrait of a group of men caught between their adolescent desires and the threat of looming adulthood. The inability of the group to handle their desires is the source of much comedy in the play, even though they themselves perceive it themselves as something of a tragedy.

Rattigan based the play partly on his own experiences at a crammer in Wimereux, near Boulogne, in the summer of 1931, where he'd been sent by his father to get his French up to an acceptable standard for a diplomatic career. The play was initially titled Joie de Vivre, then French Chalk and thirdly, Gone Away. Rattigan came up with the play's eventual title after Harold French, who was to direct the first production, rejected the title Gone Away.

The Criterion Theatre premiere came about as the result of a happy accident: producer Donald Albery had taken a nine-month option on Rattigan's play, but no production appeared until, by chance, one of Albery’s productions was unexpectedly losing money, and he took the decision to replace it with something cheap. Since Gone Away (as it was then called) required a relatively small cast and only one set, Albery quickly arranged for a production.

The premiere was directed by Harold French and performed by Trevor Howard, Guy Middleton, Rex Harrison, Yvonne Andre, Percy Walsh, Roland Culver, Kay Hammond, Robert Flemyng, Jessica Tandy and William Dear.

Despite an appalling dress rehearsal, the play was rapturously received by the first-night audience, and the reviews that followed were almost entirely positive. W. A. Darlington in the Daily Telegraph wrote that ‘the gift of real lightness is a rare one in the theatre, and Terence Rattigan is a lucky young man to have it’, observing that ‘this is an unpretentious entertainment; but it gets just about full marks in its class’. The same theme was picked up everywhere: the Evening Standard called it a ‘little masterpiece of frivolity’ and the Morning Post called it ‘a brilliant little comedy’, while Herbert Farjeon in The Bystander speculated that, ‘if, by any mischance, I had fallen asleep at this, I believe my own laughter would have woken me up’.

The play's first major revival was in 1949, at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, directed by Robert Flemyng who also starred as Alan, alongside Moira Lister as Diana and Clive Morton as Rogers.

There was a successful film production in 1939, directed by Anthony Asquith, a radio revival in 1957 and a television production as part of BBC1’s ‘Play of the Month’ series in 1976.

A musical version of the play, entitled Joie de Vivre, premiered in 1960 at the Queen’s Theatre, London, with a book by Rattigan himself, but it was not a success and closed after just four performances.

As Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato observes in his introduction to the play (Nick Hern Books, 1995), 'The success of French Without Tears established Rattigan’s reputation, but later he began to see it as a millstone. For many years, Rattigan’s plays were judged against this early success: "Whatever I did subsequently I was always described as the author of French Without Tears. It took me years and years actually to get the phrase removed from programme notes". ... Rattigan would soon take a very different direction, his work becoming increasingly complicated by social questions, his tone darkened by explorations in the more desolate fields of love and desire.'

Terence Rattigan

Photo by Anthony Crickmay, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Sir Terence Rattigan (1911-77) was a British playwright, whose well-structured plays enjoyed enormous success in the years before and after World War II. At one time three of his works were running simultaneously in the West End. Rattigan was knighted in 1971, the first dramatist to be so honoured since the war.

When Rattigan was a young man, his father, a wealthy diplomat, agreed to finance his writing for a maximum of two years. After 23 months, Rattigan produced his first comedy, French Without Tears (1936), about a group of young Englishmen learning French in a crammer. It ran for 1049 performances at the Criterion Theatre, providing Rattigan with perhaps the greatest success ever enjoyed by a West End newcomer. His second success, After the Dance, dealt with the danger of stifled passion; it was revived by the BBC in 1993.

His great wartime successes included a drama inspired by his days in the RAF, Flare Path (1942), and While The Sun Shines (1943), which ran for 1154 performances. The Winslow Boy (1946), which won many awards, told the true story of a father's campaign to prove his son innocent of an act of petty theft. Later outstanding works included The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), a moving story about adultery and suicide (written after the suicide of his lover Kenneth Morgan), Separate Tables (1955), and Ross (1960) in which Sir Alec Guinness starred as T. E. Lawrence.

Rattigan lived an extravagant life, driving a Rolls-Royce with a personalized number plate and gambling away the £25,000 he made from French Without Tears in three weeks. His lifestyle and attitudes were diametrically opposed to those of the Angry Young Men of the mid 1950s, who tended to regard his work as the epitome of everything they disliked in contemporary drama. Rattigan stated publicly that he hated Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) and as the new kitchen sink realism became popular his reputation waned, along with that of Noël Coward and others of his generation. 'We were told we were oldfashioned, effete, and corrupt,' he said.

More recently, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Rattigan's work. This trend began with a revival of The Deep Blue Sea at the Almeida Theatre in 1993, the first major production since its premiere over 40 years earlier. Successful revivals of The Winslow Boy, Separate Tables, and other lesser known works have followed.