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The Questors present The Browning Version | The Studio | Review

Terence Rattigan, the gift that keeps on giving.

It would be easy to begin a review of The Browning Version by rehashing common tropes associated with the play since its first production in 1948 at the Phoenix Theatre, London. However, such is the respect and compassion playwright Terence Rattigan has for the human heart – its sufferings and humiliations – that we find in The Browning Version a universal tragedy that awaits each human subject, rather than a play simply about the repressed emotions of the English middle-classes and, what is often referred to by reviewers, as the failed life of a schoolmaster.

The Browning Version - Photo credit Jane Arnold-Forster.
The Browning Version – Photo credit Jane Arnold-Forster.

The play’s protagonist, Andrew Crocker-Harris (Simon Taylor), is an emotionally rigid, unpopular teacher of Latin and Greek classics in an English public school. Suffering from a heart ailment, he is forced to take early retirement and refused a pension by the school’s governors because of it, although he is retiring very close to the time when he would be eligible for his pension.

Rules, my boy, he is told by Dr Frobisher, the headmaster (Robert Gordon Clark) who adds to Crocker-Harris’ humiliation by demoting his place at his own leaving ceremony, requesting the classicist schoolmaster bestow the honour of final speaker to a much younger cricketer colleague. An especially brutal request, since the headmaster considers Crocker-Harris to be the most brilliant scholar whoever taught at the school and yet presents him with this demoralising request.

Crocker-Harris seems to suffer these indignities with meek acceptance, as he does the peccadilloes of his embittered wife, Millie (Caroline Ash), who is sexually obsessed with Frank Hunter (James Burgess), a science teacher who enjoys a relaxed relationship with his students of the upper-fifth and is also a family friend.

Crocker-Harris maintains a mask of indifference to these humiliations until Taplow (Quinn Goodliffe), one of his students of the lower-fifth, gives him a second-hand copy of Robert Browning’s version of Agamemnon and, like a character in a Greek tragedy, Crocker-Harris’ mask slips and he is reduced to tears. I would rather have this present than almost anything I can think of, he says, as the weight of his student’s kindness sinks in.

Taplow’s unexpected heartfelt appreciation of his schoolmaster shakes Crocker-Harris to the very core of his being, offering him a success he’d long since forsaken, and forcing him to reevaluate his own existence.

These are the universal themes of The Browning Version. Life will be filled with bitter disappointments; the people we love may betray us; as we age, youth and its accompanying virility will render years of wisdom and experience irrelevant; we will wear masks to conceal these disappointments – and sometimes the one who disappoints will be us – but there will be moments when the gifts we offer will be recognised and valued and it will be enough to rebalance the injustices experienced in every human life.

The current rendering of this 70-year-old masterpiece benefits from the most compelling performances, with Simon Taylor’s Crocker-Harris reducing me to tears as he collapses with gratitude upon receiving his gift from Quinn Goodliffe, a most cheeky and engaging Taplow; to James Burgess’ feelings of self-hatred as his betrayal of Crocker-Harris sinks in; to Caroline Ash, who offers the best mean-spirited Millie Crocker-Harris, a wife awash in resentment and hatred and with little knowledge of her own self-worth.

And this is the unrivalled mastery of Terence Rattigan, a playwright whose compassionate insight into the human condition continues to be revisited and reconsidered by theatre creatives and audiences throughout the decades. Director Francis Lloyd has certainly paid tribute to this in his exploration of this timeless Rattigan classic.

5 Star Rating

Review by Loretta Monaco

Parallelling the themes presented in The Browning Version, in which a great classicist is humiliated and unloved, is the crumbling state of the Rattigan Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery in London, which holds Terence Rattigan’s ashes. When he died in 1977, Rattigan’s ashes were brought back from Bermuda, interred in the Rattigan family plot but, sadly, his name was never added to the family memorial stone.

Hence, one of the world’s most valued playwright’s lies unnamed and unknown in an unkempt, dilapidated gravesite.

If readers would like to know more about the Rattigan Memorial Fundraising Project, a fundraiser that’s been launched to rectify this shocking circumstance, and to view a photo of the crumbling memorial that holds Rattigan’s ashes, information can be found at https://gofund.me/722dc999

*******

Everyone has a breaking point…
Written by multi-award-winning playwright Terence Rattigan, this critically acclaimed masterpiece is widely recognised as his greatest piece of work.

Andrew Crocker-Harris may be a brilliant classical scholar, but to the boys he teaches, he’s simply “the Crock”. He has failed as a schoolmaster and a husband, and now ill health is forcing him into early retirement. On his final day, the future is looking bleak. But could a sudden unexpected moment of kindness break open the confines of his world? A gripping, powerful play that poignantly explores how one’s worth is valued by our supposed “successes” and “failures”.

Originally set to be performed in May 2020, The Questors Theatre brings you a razor-sharp production of Rattigan’s acclaimed one-act drama, which promises to pack an emotional punch far out of proportion to its seemingly simple setting.

The Browning Version was described as “A masterpiece” by The New York Journal.

The Questors Present
The Browning Version
By Terence Rattigan
01 Oct – 09 Oct 21
http://www.questors.org.uk/

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