This is the first time that this neglected rather early Rattigan play has been seen in Sydney. While it now perhaps seems rather dated and ‘of its time’ under Giles Gartrell-Mills’ excellent direction this play while at first, seemingly very artificial, superficial and slow to take off, develops and becomes quite intense and multi-layered.
Rattigan’s play, AFTER THE DANCE written in 1939, examines the life of the young people who survived World War One and lived life to the full in the hedonistic 1920s, only to find themselves now middle-aged, disillusioned and facing another World War .It is a study of a lost generation. The script is brilliantly written and the play well plotted and structured. At times the play seems a bit like a brittle Coward comedy – the audience laughed heartily at certain points at the sparking , witty dialogue – but there remains an underlying passion and morality. Rattigan is able to let the audience see the hidden sadness of these doomed fantasists.
The set (by John Cervenka) is an elegant Mayfair apartment, featuring fluid clean lines, a folding screen to hide the entrance to the balcony, a piano, a huge Chesterfield sofa , a large gramophone , a well- stocked bar and an area for David and Peter’s typing and writing.
Liam O’Keefe’s lighting evokes the soft yet turbulent melancholy hidden beneath a Mayfair drawing room. Costumes (Brodie Simpson) caught the period splendidly .
The main character is David Scott-Fowler, a would-be historian, who is suffering from writer’s block and stuck in an alcoholic haze, his self-destructive lifestyle eventually ruining his marriage. His wife Joan studiously wears a carefree public mask, not quite daring to reveal how much she desperately loves him.
When David falls into a relationship with the much-younger Helen, an idealist who is determined to ‘save’ him, events take on a tragic turn. Is it accident, murder or suicide? Can David be ‘ saved’ or will he self-destruct?
The play’s main themes include love, what makes a successful marriage and being true to yourself. Also the way women were regarded in society at that time and their independence or lack of it. David is very wealthy and yet extremely miserable, drifting in a life with no real purpose or aim and he feels he has failed. He is unable to connect and is terribly lonely. We see the mostly rather foolish ways the various personalities staying at his house spend their time, generally full of ennui. There is a discussion about the dangers of overindulgence in drink that still resonates strongly today .
George Banders sympathetically presents David as charismatic yet very lonely and faded, listlessly existing. He hopes for encouragement from his friends but doesn’t really receive it.He doesn’t really look at himself in the rather dingy and smeared mirror prominently hung in the room and can’t face self-examination.
His wife Joan was terrifically played by Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame as complex and vivacious, steely yet fragile underneath – there is a heart wrenching scene when it is revealed that she is being thrown over for a younger woman. Their dark, ursine like friend John , perhaps in love with Joan, was given a fine performance by John Michael Burdon who gives a touching performance as their seemingly parasitic friend, conveying many layered one-liners with great aplomb yet simultaneously revealing a deep sense of morality.
Dark, elfin like Helen was captivatingly played by Claudia Ware. She seeks to rescue David but unwittingly almost destroys him.
Peter, David’s cousin and Helen’s anguished, discarded ex, was given a tremendous performance by Rowan Davie. We see his inner turmoil and search for integrity .
The rest of the ensemble under Gartrell-Mills’ sure hand also gave impressive performances.
A fascinating chance to see this rarely performed, at times searingly emotional play by one of the finest British playwrights of his generation.
Running time 2& ½ hours including interval
Terrence Rattigan’s AfTER THE DANCE is playing at the New Theatre, Newtown until 9th September 2017.