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Cause Célèbre by Terence Rattigan at Hampton Hill Theatre | Review

Cause Célèbre - Photo by Cath Messum
Cause Célèbre – Photo by Cath Messum

Like his masterpiece The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan’s final play Cause Célèbre was inspired by a notorious trial, in this case that dealing with the alleged murder of an architect, Francis Rattenbury, by his wife Alma, thirty years his junior, and her lover George Stoner who was, in turn, twenty years younger than her. Originally a 1975 radio play featuring Diana Dors, the play’s non-linear format and multiple settings were carried over to the stage adaptation, first seen in 1977 and developed by a dying Rattigan with its first director Robin Midgley. For Teddington Theatre Club’s revival, Patrick Troughton has created a realistic, heavily panelled set that evokes the austere majesty of the Old Bailey and provides a suburban backdrop for the domestic scenes in which the bulk of the play is presented. While lacking the tricksiness of some of his other work, Troughton’s design provides a magnificent frame for Fiona Smith’s production and his set is complemented by an effective sound and lighting design that smooth the play’s otherwise slightly clunky structure.

Happily, Smith is also well served by her cast, led by Mia Skytte Jensen as the hedonistic Alma and Jane Marcus as Edith Davenport, a fictional jury member who embodies everything that Alma is not. Skytte Jensen is alternatingly vivacious, voracious and vulnerable and, despite a rather passionless performance from Jake O’Hare in the underwritten role of George, she is utterly compelling as the affair rollercoasters through to its horrifying end. Linking the two women is Alma’s defence counsel, played in a strong performance with Sindenesque fruitiness by Daniel Wain as he strives to save Alma by persuading Edith to overcome her feelings of revulsion. While Alma is sympathetic from the start, a butterfly trapped and eventually destroyed by a net of her own making, Edith is – perhaps inevitably – the more complex character and in the part, Jane Marcus is equally compelling, initially an archetype of Edwardian sensibilities but, as the court case progresses, finding the confidence to challenge herself and to face her own shortcomings as a wife and mother.

With three strong central performances, there is the potential for secondary characters to be little more than underpinning but in this production, there are excellent performances at every level, literally, especially from Dionne King as Edith’s venomous sister Stella, John Mortley as George’s counsel and a delightfully precise Graham Titcombe as the prosecutor. And there are also superb cameos from Jack Dwyer, as Alma’s young son, as well as Jacob Taylor, by turns amusing and appalling as Edith’s priapic son, and also from Genevieve Trickett who from her few short appearances nonetheless conveys the impression that there is a play to be written around Alma’s companion Irene. Finally, there must be a word of praise for the ladies’ wigs and Zoe Harvey-Lee’s excellent wardrobe.

Teddington Theatre Club is on top form with their strong production of this fascinating play. Highly recommended.

4 stars

Review by Louis Mazzini

Terence Rattigan’s final play is based on the true story of Alma Rattenbury, who in 1935 stood trial with her 18-year-old lover for the murder of her older husband. Her counterpoint is the fictional Edith Davenport, steely chairwoman of the jury, whose own life echoes a tale of love, betrayal, guilt and tumultuous passions that must be repressed.

An amateur production by special arrangement with Samuel French Ltd, a Concord Theatricals Company

Alma Rattenbury – Mia Skytte Jensen
Francis Rattenbury / Judge – David Robins
Christopher Rattenbury – Jack Dwyer
Christopher Rattenbury – Charlie McDowell
Irene Riggs – Genevieve Trickett
George Wood – Jake O’Hare
Edith Davenport – Jane Marcus
John Davenport – Darren McIlroy
Tony Davenport – Jacob Taylor
Stella Morrison – Dionne King
O’Connor – Daniel Wain
Croom-Johnson – Graham Titcombe
Casswell – John Mortley
Montagu – Sue Reoch
Clerk of the Court / Coroner – Liz Salaman
Joan Webster – Heather Mathew
Sergeant Bagwell / Porter – Chris Morris

Production Team & Crew:
Director – Fiona Smith
Production Manager – Steve Wayman
Stage Manager – Ron Hudson
Set Design and Construction – Patrick Troughton
Set Construction – Rob Thirtle, Alan Corbett, Fiona Auty, Steve Wayman, Ozgur Genca, Rochelle Taylor-Butcher
Wardrobe – Zoe Harvey-Lee
Lighting and BAT Link – Mike Elgey
Sound – John Pyle
Rehearsal Prompt – Jenny Hobson
Photographer – Cath Messum
Promo Videographer – Peter Messum
Artistic Link – Daniel Wain

Cause Celebre
By Terence Rattigan
Sat 7 Mar 2020 to Fri 13 Mar 2020
Hampton Hill Theatre: Main Auditorium


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