The plays of Terence Rattigan may have gone out of fashion after the new wave of “angry young men” playwrights were famously ushered in by the Royal Court in 1956 with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. But though Rattigan’s Man and Boy sometimes overeggs the melodrama, the playwright’s supreme craftsmanship and Maria Aitken’s meticulously well-observed revival wins through to re-claim this play from the relative obscurity in which it has mostly languished since it was originally premiered in 1963.
Both the qualities of the play and production are most brilliantly expressed in David Suchet’s riveting performance as a powerful but immoral businessman heading towards destruction as his past finally catches up with him. This is a chillingly poised performance that’s remorseless in revealing its character’s simultaneous ruthlessness towards others and lack of self-pity for himself.
Suchet is reason enough to see the play, but Aitken’s production, which I had previously seen and reviewed (see below) on its regional tour, has now grown in texture and tension, too. While I previously complained that some of these attributes weren’t fully present into the second act, the momentum is now properly sustained throughout, particularly thanks to David Yelland’s no less chilling act of self-preservation as Suchet’s business sidekick and Ben Silverstone’s touchingly vulnerable performance as the son.
- Mark Shenton
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from October 2004 and an earlier tour stop for this production.
“All’s fair in love and war”, it is sometimes said in order to excuse deception, or worse, in matters of the heart or conflict. But what about the (im)moralities of big business?
In this seriously fascinating re-discovery of Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy - originally premiered in 1963 at the West End’s Queen’s Theatre and briefly in the same year on Broadway but not seen in either place since - there’s a powerful, vividly contemporary examination of the steps that a self-made, manipulative millionaire Gregor Antonescu (David Suchet) will take to save his precarious business empire as it faces imminent collapse.
We’ve seen in real-life in the past few years how cornered men like Robert Maxwell behaved, even robbing from the pension funds of their own employees. That finds an amazing parallel here with Rattigan’s fictional Antonescu, who’s seen here seeking to snitch funds from his own charitable foundation, run by his wife (Emma Ferguson).
But Rattigan’s play has a wider theme, too, and that – as the title suggests – is the one between this man and his estranged 23-year-old son Vassily (Ben Silverstone) as they are reunited in the midst of the father’s crisis. In an astonishing first act power play of rich and layered resonance, Antonescu uses his son’s Greenwich Village apartment as a bolt-hole – as, in the outside world, the press close in on him and shares in his company Manson Radios plummet - and invites Mark Herris (Colin Stinton), the chairman of American Electrical Incorporated with whom he’s hoping to effect a merger, to a meeting there.
To watch Antonescu systematically demolish the arguments of American Electrical’s accountant David Beeston (Will Huggins), who has examined Manson’s books and advised against the merger, is to see a ruthless manipulator at work. But to then watch him use his own son as a pawn to win Herris’ trust is as shocking as it is still distasteful.
This scene alone justifies this revival. And it’s played with magnificent tension and intensity in Maria Aitken’s production that is tremendously acted by Suchet, David Yelland as Antonescu’s sidekick Sven Johnson, Stinton and Huggins.
The same degree of danger is, as yet, not entirely successfully maintained into the second act. That’s odd because, as Antonescu’s past closes in on him still further and he faces a charge of forging securities for a loan from in the bank of the city of London and a warrant for his arrest is issued, the stakes go even higher.
Though Suchet now sensitively exposes some of his character’s vulnerability beneath the ruthless bluster, there’s perhaps more work to be done on maintaining the tension so memorably established earlier. That may come as the play’s tour progresses; but for now, it’s nevertheless still worth seeing for the first act alone.
- Mark Shenton (reviewed at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford)