This is the sixth, and probably last, of my Rattigan centenary productions. His short one-acter, The Browning Version, set in a public school in the 40¡¯s is usually paired with another one-acter called Harlequinade. Here it¡¯s paired with a new play from David Hare set in a similar school 20 years later.
Rattigan¡¯s play is a deeply moving tale of a school master with an unfaithful wife and unfair employer, but at its heart is an act of kindness by a pupil. A set of superb performances make Angus Jackson¡¯s production shine like a gem. Nicholas Farrell as the master is initially pompous and irritating, but then almost breaks your heart. Anna Chancellor is icy cold as his unfaithful wife and Mark Umbers diffident but ultimately sympathetic as her lover. Liam Morton gives a very nuanced performance as the boy, a most auspicious professional debut. It¡¯s a subtle and sensitive staging which benefits greatly from the intimacy of the Minerva space.
Hare¡¯s ¡®curtain raiser¡¯ shows 60¡äs boys more questioning and challenging, but little else has changed in public schools with bullying a fact of daily school life. Older pupil Jeremy takes young John under his wing introducing him to his mother, Anna Chancellor now in a much more sympathetic role. Again, an act of kindness is at the heart of the play, but this time we see things from the perspective of the pupil. The younger boys ¨C Alex Lawther¡¯s John, Jack Elliott¡¯s Gunter (two more outstanding professional debuts) and Bradley Hall¡¯s Jenkins are terrific and again the staging, this time by Jeremy Herrin, is subtle and sensitive.
Though they are very different plays, they sit very comfortably together and provide a deeply rewarding and very human evening, linked by these acts of kindness 20 years apart and 50-70 years ago, yet timeless.
- Gareth James
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