Theatre review: After the Dance

Posted on: 15 June 2010 by Mark O'haire

A rarely performed but excellent play has been revived in a stunning new production by the National Theatre in the Lyttleton auditorium.

A rarely performed but excellent play by one of our greatest dramatists - Terence Rattigan - entitled After the Dance, whose 1939 premiere was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War, has been revived in a stunning new production by the National Theatre in the Lyttleton auditorium.

As the world races towards catastrophe a crowd of London socialities party their way to oblivion to disguise their empty lives. At its centre is David, a historian who idles away his sober moments researching a futile book until the beautiful Helen, his cousin’s girlfriend, decides to save him, shattering his 12-year marriage, and learning too late the depth of both David’s indolence and his wife’s undeclared love. But with finances about to crash and humanity on the brink of global conflict, the drink keeps flowing and the revellers dance on.

This was Rattigan’s first successful serious drama after the light comedy of French Without Tears, and is now thought to be his masterpiece, offering a subtle, witty unmasking of the hedonistic 20s generation and a devastating study of repression and the human heart, in particular how in a very English milieu - Hildegard Bechtler’s gorgeous recreation of a plush Mayfair flat - everyone conceals awkward truths behind meaningless social chit-chat and constant booze.

“It’s the bright young people over again, only they never were bright and now they’re not even young”, one guest pithily remarks.

Thea Sharrock directs a perfectly pitched and impeccably acted production with especially strong performances by Benedict Cumberbatch as the self-centred, high-living and hard-drinking David, Nancy Carroll as his wife, Joan, the woman he married on a whim and whose true feelings towards him he learns too late, Faye Castelow as the callow Helen, the woman who comes between them, John Heffernan as Peter, her earnest, devoted boyfriend, and Adrian Scarborough as John, a guest who has long outstayed his welcome and who has the ability to anatomise the lives of others with blistering honesty.

Next year marks the centenary of Rattigan’s birth and I’m sure if he were alive today he would have given his firm blessing to this impressive production.

By Laurence Green

Where: Lyttleton auditorium, National Theatre

When: Plays in repertory until 11 August

Box Office: 020 7452 3000

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