“After The Dance” by Terence Rattigan

at the Lyttelton Theatre, Thursday 17th June 2010

After The Dance is often considered to be one of Terence Rattigan’s ‘lost’ plays, having only seen one London run in 1939, but its revival here comes at a somewhat pertinent time. The original run was cut short by the Second World War, but the tension of the coming storm can be seen clearly throughout. Thea Sharrock’s remarkable revival of the play at is at once moving and thought-provoking.

Admittedly, the idea of going to see a ‘well-made’ play is not a notion that necessarily fills one with an overwhelming excitement. The plot of After The Dance is heavily contrived and predictable, and yet this seems only to add to the excitement felt as we experience it. David and Joan Scott-Fowler, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Nancy Carroll respectively, are of an age that remembers the first war but were not old enough to partake in any action. They pretend to be “bright young” people, but continue to wallow in their sorrows without noticing they have any. When the young Helen Banner (the waif-like Faye Castelow) arrives, she diverts David’s attention away from his wife and his alcoholism and their love affair drives the play towards its horrific conclusion.

Throughout, we see a generation that has lost touch with reality and live in a fantasy world, only caring for themselves. As today, we see people who have not experienced war and yet seem to be running the country, becoming complacent and not understand the damage they are doing as we hurtle headlong towards what is inevitably a tragic ending. Within the play, we see the two sides of youth. Helen is naïve, short-sighted and stubborn, not understanding the consequences of youth. Whilst she represents an idealised version of youth for older generations, Peter Scott-Fowler (David’s cousin) is hardworking, astute and seems to hold hopes for the future. The sooner older generations realise that being “a bore” is not a bad thing, the quicker we will resolve our problems.

Although Rattigan’s script is strong, the cast are the catalyst through which the emotions of the piece are carried. Cumberbatch looms over his cast members, and his piercing gaze longs for sympathy yet cannot help but cause a hatred of this dogmatic character. Carroll’s Joan is tender but shares the obstinacy of her husband. In Act Two she truly excels and solicits our attention throughout. Most astonishing is Adrian Scarborough as the Scott-Fowler’s drunken lodger, proving himself to be one of our greatest comic actors. Scarborough carries most of the laughs in the play but engenders a great humility in latter scenes, giving us the necessary compassion which his peers seem to lack.

Hildegard Bechtler’s grandiose set perfectly encapsulates the ostentation of the between-wars generation and can be both eerily spacious and buoyantly welcoming. Mark Henderson’s lighting is deceptively simple and yet does a lot to set the mood of each scene. We are constantly reminded that excess does not necessarily lead to a happy life.

Sharrock’s direction perfectly captures what we imagine to be Rattigan’s initial vision and there is no doubt that the playwright was on top form while writing this play. The frustration of youth is mirrored throughout and the impending doom always present. This production of After The Dance is beautifully created and it does not fail to move. Let us hope, therefore, that it is not doomed to the same fate that the original run was. If Rattigan has taught us anything, it is that we must learn from our past mistakes.

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3 thoughts on ““After The Dance” by Terence Rattigan”

  1. Hi – I agree with your comments – it was Adrian Scarborough who really stood out for me too. Unfortunately, because I had a long journey and an early start the next day I had to miss Act Three! Could you be so kind as to tell me what happened? I wish I’d stayed now – one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen for a long time.

      1. From what I can remember we see David and Helen together a few months after Joan’s death. Peter is off studying (I think) and returns, but is still clearly hurt by Helen’s decision to be with David. It seems at the end that David won’t give up his habit. Hope that helps.

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