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.