The Rattigan Collection

Plays

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.

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'.

Duologue

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.'

Harlequinade

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Harlequinade is a one-act farce about a touring theatre company, first produced in a double-bill with The Browning Version under the joint title Playbill at the Phoenix Theatre, London, on 8 September 1948.

The play is set on the stage of a theatre in a Midlands town. Arthur Gosport and his wife Edna are the principal leads in a professional touring theatre company, currently performing Romeo and Juliet. In order to hide their unsuitability as teenage lovers, they have the stage lights turned down so low that they fuse. However, when Arthur is confronted by the daughter and granddaughter he never knew he had, he discovers that he’s actually still married to his first wife and has (unwittingly) committed bigamy.

As Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato writes in his introduction to the play (published in a volume with The Browning Version by Nick Hern Books, 1994), the play is 'a witty satire of the kind of touring theatre encouraged by the new Committee for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (CEMA, the immediate forerunner of the Arts Council)'. In August 1946, this body was reconstituted as the Arts Council of Great Britain.

The Phoenix Theatre premiere was directed by Peter Glenville, with Eric Portman as Arthur Gosport, Mary Ellis as Edna Selby, Marie Löhr as Dame Maud Gosport, Hector Ross as Jack Wakefield, Kenneth Edwards as George Chudleigh, Peter Scott as First Halberdier, Basil Howes as Second Halberdier, Noel Dyson as Miss Fishlock, Anthony Oliver as Fred Ingram, Henry Bryce as Johnny, Thelma Ruby as Muriel Palmer, Patrick Jordan as Tom Palmer, Campbell Cotts as Mr Burton, Henryetta Edwards as Joyce Langland and Manville Tarrant as the Policeman.

In Praise of Love

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's In Praise of Love is a play about a husband and wife who, with the best of intentions, deceive each other over the wife's fatal illness. It was based in part on the relationship between Rattigan's friend, the actor Rex Harrison, and his wife Kay Kendall, who died of leukaemia. The play was first produced as a one-act play under the title After Lydia in a double-bill with the short farce, Before Dawn, at the Duchess Theatre, London, on 27 September 1973. Rattigan reworked and extended the play as In Praise of Love for its New York premiere at the Morosco Theatre on 10 December 1974, starring Rex Harrison himself.

The play is set in a small flat in Islington in north London, the home of Sebastian and Lydia Cruttwell. Sebastian was a once-promising novelist, now a critic with Marxist sympathies. His sardonic indifference is tolerated amicably by Lydia, an Estonian refugee, whom Sebastian married after the war to secure her a British passport, and whom he seems absent-mindedly to have neglected to divorce ever since. But Lydia is dying: she has been diagnosed with advanced polyarteritis and is unlikely to live more than a year. She confides all this to a family friend, Mark Walters, but, wanting to spare him anxiety, not to Sebastian. Sebastian, however, admits to Mark that he knows all about the illness, and has been keeping Lydia in a state of what he believes to be sublime ignorance. The diagnosis has made Sebastian realise how much he loves his wife, though the need to persuade her that everything is normal has forced him painfully to continue a subterfuge of cantankerous off-handedness. Mark, caught between the loyalties of his old friend and the woman he has always loved, points Lydia towards the truth.

The Duchess Theatre premiere was directed by John Dexter with Joan Greenwood as Lydia and Donald Sinden as Sebastian.

The complex relationship between the action of the play and the real-life story of Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall is examined by Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition (2001). Rebellato traces the play's evolution as Rattigan reworked it for the New York premiere in which Harrison took on the part that he'd originally inspired, concluding that In Praise of Love is 'Rattigan’s last attempt at a well-made play and one of his best'.

Less Than Kind

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

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.

Love in Idleness

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Love in Idleness is the third in an unofficial trilogy of war plays, following Flare Path (1942) and While the Sun Shines (1943). It is a play that explores the conflict between the values of pre-war Britain, and those that Rattigan saw would dominate the post-war world. The play was first produced (after a pre-London tour) at the Lyric Theatre, London, on 20 December 1944.

The plot, which consciously draws on that of Hamlet, has seventeen-year-old Michael Brown returning to wartime London from evacuation to Canada, brimming with socialist convictions – only to find that his widowed mother, Olivia, has become the mistress of wealthy industrialist Sir John Fletcher, a leading member of the war cabinet and a staunch Tory. Sparks fly between the idealistic younger man and the pragmatic politician while Olivia is torn between them.

Rattigan's first version of the play had the title Less Than Kind (another Hamlet reference), and had been written for stage and musical comedy star Gertrude Lawrence. But when Lawrence turned down the play without even reading the script, Rattigan reconceived it as a vehicle for Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. The Lunts, as they were known, were perhaps the most beloved actors of the era, stars of Broadway since the 1920s and resident in London during the second half of the war. The play then evolved considerably, particularly at the behest of Alfred Lunt, who imposed on Rattigan to make his character (Sir John Fletcher) more sympathetic – changes that Rattigan seemed happy to make, yet which significantly altered the balance of the play's politics. 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 Lyric Theatre premiere of Love in Idleness was directed by Alfred Lunt, with Lynn Fontanne as Olivia Brown, Margaret Murray as Polton, Peggy Dear as Miss Dell, Alfred Lunt as Sir John Fletcher, Brian Nissen as Michael Brown, Kathleen Kent as Diana Fletcher, Mona Harrison as Celia Wentworth, Frank Forder as Sir Thomas Markham and Antoinette Keith as Lady Markham.

The reviews were hugely enthusiastic, yet more so for the Lunts' performances than for Rattigan's script. The critic for the Recorder was typical: ‘But what about the author? It is so hard to say. The lines sounded as if they were the wittiest since the days of Oscar Wilde. What is more, they may have been. But what can a critic say when there are two actors who are so supreme in their art that they can make the mention of a boiled egg sound like the climax of human happiness or the depths of disillusionment?’

A new production of the play under the title O Mistress Mine, with the Lunts reprising their original roles, opened on Broadway at the Empire Theatre on 23 January 1946. It ran for 452 performances, by far Rattigan’s longest US run.

Ross

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's play Ross explores the enigmatic life of T.E. Lawrence and his heroic incarnation as 'Lawrence of Arabia'. It was first presented by H.M. Tennent at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, on 12 May 1960. This edition, with an introduction by Dan Rebellato, was published alongside the revival at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2016.

The play is structured with a framing device set in 1922, when Lawrence was hiding under an assumed name as 'Aircraftman Ross' in the Royal Air Force, and is being disciplined by his Flight Lieutenant for alleged misconduct. No one seems to have become aware of his true identity, except for a man named Dickinson, who had seen Lawrence at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and quickly attempts to blackmail him to keep his identity secret. Lawrence, however, refuses, and Dickinson decides to reveal his identity to the Daily Mirror. The action then flashes back to mid-1916 and proceeds to tell a version of Lawrence's much-contested life story, beginning with him being given an unofficial assignment as a liaison officer to the forces of the Arab Revolt.

In his introduction to the play published in the Nick Hern Books edition (2016), Dan Rebellato writes that 'Ross was Terence Rattigan’s second most commercially successful play (after the light comedy When the Sun Shines), playing for nearly two years at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, one of London’s biggest theatres. When it closed in March 1962, it had been seen by over two-thirds of a million people. .... Unfortunately, Ross coincided with the sharp downturn in Rattigan’s reputation. Although it received some of the best and most respectful reviews of his career, the goodwill it had earned him was snuffed out two months later by Joie de Vivre, a disastrous musical adaptation of French Without Tears that was booed at the opening and closed within a week. It took twenty-five years for his reputation to recover'.

The 1960 premiere was directed by Glen Byam Shaw with Alec Guinness as Aircraftman Ross.

The 2016 production was directed by Adrian Noble and designed by William Dudley, with Joseph Fiennes as Aircraftman Ross.

Separate Tables

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables comprises two linked one-act plays set in the same small residential hotel on the south coast of England. The play examines social attitudes towards lifestyles and behaviour deemed morally reprehensible in 1950s Britain. It was first produced at the St. James’s Theatre, London, on 22 September 1954.

The action of both plays takes place in the lounge and dining-room of the Beauregard Private Hotel near Bournemouth. In the first play, Table by the Window, ex-Labour MP John Malcolm, who has spent time in prison for assaulting his wife Anne Shankland, lives a life of virtual anonymity, writing for a left-wing weekly, New Outlook, under the name ‘Cato’. He is in a relationship with Miss Cooper, the manageress of the hotel, where Anne turns up unexpectedly. Their successful reconciliation is disrupted when John discovers that her ‘accidental’ arrival was actually arranged, and he suspects her of trying to ‘enslave’ him again. But Miss Cooper, recognising the strength of feeling on both sides, gives way to Anne, and at the end of the play Anne and John have tentatively agreed to try again.

The second play, Table Number Seven, is set in the same place eighteen months later. The focus is now on Major David Pollock, a long-term, ex-public school resident of the hotel, who has struck up a curious friendship with Sibyl, the infantilised, terrorised, fragile daughter of the tyrannical Mrs Railton-Bell. Despite Pollock’s best efforts to hide the report of it in the local newspaper, Mrs Railton Bell discovers that he has been arrested for molesting women in a cinema, and that his identity is largely confected: he never was a Major, and never went to Wellington School. She calls a residents’ meeting, and, despite many misgivings, they are railroaded into voting for Pollock’s expulsion from the Hotel. Despite Miss Cooper’s urging, Pollock prepares to leave. That evening the residents settle down to dinner and are surprised when Pollock also takes up his usual table. To Mrs Railton-Bell’s horror, the residents, one by one, acknowledge Mr Pollock’s presence, and tacitly accept him back into the hotel. When Sibyl herself, who had been utterly distraught and sickened by the news report, rebels against her mother, Mrs Railton-Bell leaves the dining room, and the diners continue with their meal.

Rattigan originally conceived Major Pollock's offence as that of homosexuality, the practice of which was still a crime in Britain throughout the 1950s. An alternative version of the play, discovered amongst Rattigan's papers in the 1990s, brings the homosexual subtext to the surface: in that version, the Major has been bound over at one in the morning after persistently importuning male persons on the Esplanade. The text presented here is the ‘standard’ version, which first appeared in Rattigan’s Collected Plays and has formed the basis of all subsequent editions; the alternative scenes, which when substituted transform the story of Pollock’s crime, are printed in an appendix; where a passage exists in a variant version, a line appears in the margin alongside that passage. A full account of the two versions is given by Dan Rebellato in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition of the play (1999).

The St James’ Theatre premiere was directed by Peter Glenville with a cast including Eric Portman as John Malcolm/Major Pollock, Margaret Leighton as Anne Shankland/Sibyl, Phyllis Neilson-Terry as Mrs Railton-Bell and Beryl Measor as Miss Cooper.

The play proved another major commercial success for Rattigan in the West End and on Broadway, though he was soon to fall out of favour, seen as old-fashioned and outdated after the premiere of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court in May 1956 and the emergence the so-called ‘Angry Young Men’. As Dan Rebellato observes, 'Separate Tables was his last success before perhaps the most sudden and dramatic fall from grace of any playwright this century.'

Who is Sylvia?

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Who is Sylvia? is a drama about a married man who is drawn to women who resemble a childhood sweetheart. One of his lesser-known plays, it also one of his most personal, with its main character apparently inspired by Rattigan's own father. The play was first produced at the Criterion Theatre, London, on 24 October 1950.

The play unfolds over three acts, set respectively in 1917, 1929 and 1950. In each act we see Mark, a married man with a son, attempting to conduct affairs with three near-identical women: a shop girl, a 1920s 'flapper', and a model. At every turn his seduction is foiled: in the first act, by the arrival of the young woman’s brother; in the second, by the arrival of his son; and in the third, by the arrival of his wife, who explains that she has known about Sylvia and his assignations all along.

In his introduction accompanying the published edition of the play (Nick Hern Books, 2011), Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato argues that Who is Sylvia? is Rattigan's 'most misunderstood play... a dramaturgical experiment of considerable interest and delicacy, very much ahead of its time, and also one of Rattigan’s most turbulently personal pieces of work.' The model for Mark is believed to be Rattigan’s own unfaithful father. Rattigan’s mother confided in her son that her husband’s behaviour caused her considerable pain.

The Criterion Theatre premiere was directed by Anthony Quayle and designed by William Chappell, with Robert Flemyng as Mark, Esmond Knight as Williams, Diane Hart as Daphne, Alan Woolston as Sidney, Diana Allen as Ethel, Roland Culver as Oscar, Diana Hope as Bubbles, Diane Hart as Nora, David Aylmer as Denis, Roger Maxwell as Wilberforce, Diane Hart as Doris, Joan Benham as Chloe and Athene Seyler as Caroline.

A film version directed by Harold French, The Man Who Loved Redheads, was released in 1955; the new title reflected lead actress Moira Shearer’s flowing auburn locks.

The Winslow Boy

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy is a drama based on the real-life court case of a young naval cadet unjustly accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order. It was first produced (after a brief pre-London tour) at the Lyric Theatre, London, on 23 May 1946.

The action of the play takes place in the Winslow family home in Kensington, London, in the years immediately before the First World War. The fourteen-year-old Ronnie Winslow has been expelled from naval college, accused of the theft of a postal order. The boy remains adamant that he is innocent. Enraged, his father Arthur engages a leading lawyer, Sir Robert Morton, to challenge the Admiralty to prove the charges in court. The play follows Arthur’s attempts to clear his son’s name, even in the face of public opposition and weakening resolve. Each member of the family suffers as the case slowly unfolds, including Ronnie’s suffragette sister Catherine, who sacrifices her own happiness and ambition in the pursuit of justice for her brother.

Although Rattigan's play is closely based on the well-publicised 1910 trial of George Archer-Shee, he eschewed the option of showing us the courtroom proceedings and instead chose to set the play entirely within the Winslow family home. The result is a play that, as Dan Rebellato argues in his introduction to the edition published by Nick Hern Books (1994), adopts 'the sturdy form of the four-act "well-made play", which had become the staple of the late Victorian and Edwardian theatre... while providing a series of technical devices to introduce the legal story, this model also gives Rattigan a formal language with which to conjure up a family living on the other side of two world wars.'

Furthermore, the names of most of the characters have been altered from those of their real-life counterparts in the Archer-Shee case, and Rattigan transformed the conservative Winslow daughter, Catherine, into a suffragette.

The Lyric Theatre premiere was directed by Glen Byam Shaw, with Michael Newell as Ronnie Winslow, Kathleen Harrison as Violet, Frank Cellier as Arthur Winslow, Madge Compton as Grace Winslow, Jack Watling as Dickie Winslow, Angela Baddeley as Catherine Winslow, Alastair Bannerman as John Watherstone, Clive Morton as Desmond Curry, Mona Washbourne as Miss Barnes, Brian Harding as Fred and Emlyn Williams as Sir Robert Morton.

The production received good reviews and strong box office returns. For the first time in Rattigan's career, as Dan Rebellato argues in his introduction, 'the critics began to recognize Rattigan’s complexity and skill, and that his apparently uncomplicated, wellmade plays artfully concealed levels of narrative sophistication.'

The play became a staple of repertory theatre and has enjoyed several high-profile revivals, both in the West End and on Broadway. It was turned into a feature film in 1948, directed by Anthony Asquith, and again in 1999 by David Mamet. The play won the Ellen Terry Award for Best New Play and, on its US premiere at the Empire Theatre in October 1947, received the New York Critics’ Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

Nick Hern Books is one of the UK’s leading specialist performing arts publishers, with a vast collection of plays, screenplays and theatre books in their catalogue. They also license most of their plays for amateur performance.