This is one of those shows that manages to be of its time and yet highly contemporary at the same time, despite being almost eighty years since its premiere production opened in London. There’s Williams (Will Howells), who is almost the Reginald Jeeves to David Scott-Fowler’s (Dom Ward) Bertie Wooster of PG Wodehouse’s (1881-1975) novels. The other comparison that came to mind when watching this production of Sir Terence Rattigan’s (1911-1977) play After The Dance, albeit one with only broad similarities, is between David and the sort of lifestyle and approach to life espoused by the title character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s (1896-1940) novel The Great Gatsby.
It’s the interwar period, and David and his wife Joan (Liz Flint) are living it up, though it is not until after the interval that the audience witnesses what one of their house parties looks like. It’s not the sort of event I would wish to attend, and I would probably make my excuses, as Helen (Hannah Brooks) does, and leave well before the end of the festivities. Helen is also after David’s heart, and this love is reciprocated. Joan, to her credit, has wised up to what is going on, but her ultimate reaction becomes the play’s ‘critical incident’. Peter (James Cross), is seeing Helen, but (perhaps inevitably) breaks off that relationship once the David/Helen affair is made known, and as Peter also works for David as a live-in secretary (yes, really), he also feels it appropriate to find a new pad and a new job straight away.
A steady pace is maintained throughout the evening, but at times it is almost too steady, and while the play is never entirely static there are moments when one wishes the narrative would pick up somewhat. There are at least a dozen named characters in the show, quite a few given that all of the action and dialogue is set in David’s front room. But despite the incomings and outgoings of various people, it is remarkably easy to follow who is whom, at least partly because characters are repeatedly referred to by name. This may not have been entirely naturalistic, but it made for good theatre.
As is standard fare with Rattigan plays (as well as those of Noël Coward), the characters speak in clipped tones – ‘plummy’ accents, if you will. The cast do well to keep it up all evening, particularly Chris De Pury’s John, who tries to be as carefree as David but eventually goes off to Manchester to earn a living, for reasons explained in the narrative. It’s also worth noting that John’s observations on David are remarkably perceptive. When Arthur (David Pearson) bemoans the behaviour of people old enough to know better (I am happy to be corrected on this point, but I think there was supposed to have been a portrayal of a blowjob on a balcony in one scene), his observation is merely spot-on as opposed to overtly moralistic.
For a play from the 1930s set in the 1930s, the treatment of Joan and its consequences very much resonates with modern living, in which it is far from unheard of for someone to start another relationship without first having ended their existing one. This production is often subtle – nothing wrong with that, as people seldom yell at one another in their own home (well, some people do, but that’s another discussion for another time). It’s proof that a show need not be loud to have a powerful impact. Sometimes harrowing, this nuanced play is as tragic as it is farcical, and as pragmatic as it is escapist.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“It’s the bright young things over again, only they were never bright and now they’re not even young”
After the Dance by Terence Rattigan is a hilarious, heartbreaking and hauntingly beautiful play. Despite being a critical success when it premiered in 1938, the looming declaration of war meant it was quickly forgotten until a 2010 revival at the National Theatre brought it back to prominence.
Written as an attack on the hedonistic lifestyle of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 30s, the play’s action takes place on the eve of the Second World War in the drawing-room of the Scott-Fowlers’ flat in Mayfair, a fashionable part of London. The play focuses on David Scott-Fowler and his wife Joan who revel in their hard-drinking, hard-partying lifestyle and maintain they married for amusement and not love. When a third figure comes into the equation the couple have to face the truth of their lives, to disastrous consequence.
JOAN | Liz Flint
DAVID | Dom Ward
JOHN | Chris de Pury
PETER | James Cross
HELEN | Hannah Brooks
WILLIAMS | Will Howells
GEORGE | Josh Mallalieh
JULIA | Sarah Beebe
CYRIL | Ben Stroud
MOYA | Sophie King
LAWRENCE | Ollie Milner
ARTHUR | David Pearson
MISS POTTER | Mariam Rasekh
DIRECTOR | Jon Foster
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR | Chloe Baker
CO-PRODUCERS | Fatima Iftikhar and Lloyd Smith
STAGE MANAGER | Freddie Byron
SET DESIGN | Peter Foster
COSTUME DESIGN | Natalie Walker
LIGHTING | Will Carne
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER | Erynn Blansjaar
MARKETING COORDINATOR | Ben Stroud
COMMITTEE LIASON | Tim Garrad
AFTER THE DANCE
by TERENCE RATTIGAN
Bride Lane Fleet Street
London, EC4Y 8EQ
9-13 April 2019