It’s hard to believe that the Whingers have never seen a Terence Rattigan play before. Well, not as Whingers anyway, nor even when they were going to the theatre together as dull-and-plain-old Phil and Andrew before they re-branded as the dull-and-plain-but-with-airs West End Whingers.
Of course, each had seen a Rattigan before they first met that fateful day when they both reached for the same artichoke in marketplace of Capri. But clearly the Whingers’ appreciation of a well-constructed play, a proscenium arch, French windows, hats and servants declaring “luncheon is served” meant that a Rattigan sortie was well overdue.
All that was missing was a Dame of the British Empire, but you can’t have it all can you? Surely the Whingers would be in seventh heaven?
Things weren’t looking too promising before the Whingers entered the auditorium. Phil’s last minute visit to the National Theatre‘s powder room had was marred by the presence of a sink full of vomit. Had a new pretender visited this throne room? Was someone impersonating the Whingers, getting as many pre-show drinks in before the play (“boasting” an advertised 3 hour running time) who wasn’t as practised in the art and completely misjudged their capacity for alcohol? If there is, we’re more than happy to offer them tips.
Or perhaps it was some misguided attempt at immersion theatre on the part of the National, for it turned out to be strangely appropriate. After the Dance features an awful lot of drinking. And then some. Big opulent, black crepe (ooh!) curtains swish apart (nicely timed with the French windows’ curtains being drawn open by a servant) to reveal an opulent drawing room in muted hues not dissimilar to that sink’s newly applied colour palette. The heavy drinking John (Adrian Scarborough) lies slumped on the sofa under a copy of The Times newspaper recovering from last night’s excesses while secretary Peter (John Heffernan) sits typing away furiously. How art imitates life. It could have been the Whingers up there.
Indeed. Because it’s only moments before the drinking starts again, and so it continues. But in between the guzzling there’s a very satisfying plot centred around the heavy drinking David (Benedict Cumberbatch) who between parties is writing a book on King Ferdinand of Naples and his heavy drinking wife Joan (Nancy Carroll).
But Peter’s young girlfriend Susan (Faye Castelow) is worried that David may have cirrhosis and wants him to give up alcohol (this being 1938 nobody worries about the cigarettes; even the doctor smokes a pipe) . But is there more behind her concern than meets the eye?
Joan and David love to entertain and their lifestyle seems to give them plenty in common but Joan seems almost complicit in David’s drinking. Do they really love each other, but then again could they ever be apart? There’s something of Private Lives‘ Amanda and Elyot about their relationship.
Their milieux certainly seems like a lot of fun. Characters drop in and out and if not offered a drink they just help themselves. How agreeable. Some turn up at David and Joan’s flat already intoxicated (in the morning!) and carry on drinking before swanning off to lunch or a party. None more so than Julia (a hilarious Pandora Colin) who can’t say no to “a tingy wingy drinkie poo”, a line the Whingers will be trotting out at every opportunity from now on. And the greatest crime is to be “a bore” (something that, by coincidence, Phil keeps meaning to have a word with Andrew about).
ATD probably marks the point at which Adrian Scarborough passes from extremely-reliable-character-actorhood into apprentice National Treasure status. His John, less friend than third partner in David and Joan’s marriage, is supremely funny- switching to reflective seriousness and back seamlessly with consummate skill. It’s a quite remarkable performance. He’s almost Colonel Pickeringish in his relationship with Cumberbatch’s David. Phil thought the latter could make a perfect Henry Higgins. Someone out there should book them for a Pygmalion in a few years time.
Indeed the whole cast is terrific. This must be one of the most well-cast productions currently in town: Cumberbatch is magnetic and assured; Carroll’s big scene is heart-breaking (Andrew was glad Phil hadn’t brought the lachrymometer along as the needle may well have flickered) and Castelow is perfect as David’s would-be saviour.
If the first act seemed just a little too stately for Phil’s taste it’s becomes clear why as things turn darker. Director Thea Sharrock isn’t afraid to give the production time to develop, switching successfully from wild partying to the impressive intensity of stillness in the quieter moments.
All this and Live On Stage Knitting too (part of a marvellous cameo from Jenny Galloway). And probably Live On Stage Piano Playing. If it wasn’t live it was much more convincing than the Donmar’s efforts. Pandora Colin sports a quite magnificent hat in Act 1. And the Whingers are determined to realise Moya’s (Juliet Howland) sadly abandoned idea for a gas-mask party before the year is out.
Yes, all extremely pleasing, if at times a little to close to home (apparently one might mistake cirrhosis for wind and vice versa but presumably one can have both). Even the two intervals and three hour running time didn’t stop the Whingers having a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Andrew even confessed that the various sets of bare feet which appear at times throughout the evening didn’t distract him. Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
A highly appropriate rating