The Rattigan Collection

Plays

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.