Made up of two linked one act plays, "Table By The Window" and "Table Number Seven", Terrence Rattigan's Separate Tables is a delightful insight into a dazzling array of characters whose lives seem to be on hold within the quaint surroundings of a hotel in Bournemouth. The first play features divorcee Ann Shankland (Clare Holman) who arrives at the cosy Beauregard seeking her former abusive husband, John Malcolm (Nigel Cooke).
This tale is superbly linked to act two which features existing supporting characters attempting to pass judgment on a Major who has fallen from grace. But in steps lonely Hotel Manageress Miss Cooper (beautifully played by Alexandra Mathie) to bring a sense of perspective to the proceedings. The Major is accused of "persistently importuning male persons" and one cannot help but think that Rattigan felt challenged writing about homosexuality at a time when many writers were implying rather than informing the audience of the representational issues of the 1950s.
The acting is uniformly superb. Holman and Cooke play dual roles with ease both resisting the urge to paint their roles as mere stereotypes. Ann Firbank plays the loyal Lady Matheson and imbues her with such humanity that you almost want to clap when her character stands up for herself. Janet Henfrey inhabits the role of the judgmental Mrs Railton-Bell in a way that only Dame Maggie Smith could better. Lastly, Mathie is truly heartbreaking as the spinster who whiles away the hours picking up crumbs and straightening tablecloths masking her quest for true love.
Rattigan provides the audience with so much to take in as he sketches in minor details, which when looked at closely speak volumes. Sarah Frankcom directs with such an assured approach that the play works its magic on you from the opening scene onwards. Ti Green's old fashioned, starchy set design highlights the institutional behaviour of the long-term guests wonderfully. The loneliness of each character is lovingly captured during evening meal scenes where you can hear the knives scrape the plates alongside the trivial gossip.
The poignant music and slick set changes complement an already perfect production. One scene where the Major awaits a reaction from the diners is simply breath-taking, as is Frankcomís take on this excellent play.
Donít miss this superb revival.
- Glenn Meads