The Terence Rattigan centenary celebrations have an intriguing start with a rarity, Less Than Kind (1944), directed by one of the playwright’s most constant champions, Adrian Brown, who has even “dressed” the set with one of Rattigan’s old typewriters.
“A little more than kin and less than kind,” is Hamlet’s first utterance in sour-faced response to Claudius’s conciliatory overture. Rattigan’s spoilt brat, Michael Brown, takes a dim view of his mother’s dalliance with cabinet minister and captain of industry (with War-time responsibility for tanks) Sir John Fletcher.
Both adults are separated from their respective spouses, and Michael, played with an appropriate and ghastly priggishness by David Osmond, is soon embroiled with one of them himself: Caroline Head’s voluptuous, soignée Lady Fletcher.
Michael Darlow’s programme note charts the fascinating history of a play that was first conceived as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, hi-jacked as a starry vehicle by the Lunts in America, re-written and later excluded from the collected plays.
It sounds, anyway, as though Brown has synthesised Less Than Kind with its better known later version, Love in Idleness: Michael Simkins as Sir John certainly gives as good as he gets, emotionally and argumentatively, from Sara Crowe’s Olivia Brown.
There’s a typically Rattigan-esque exchange of the Westminster social life for dowdy bedsit land in Baron’s Court. Although Ms Crowe plays the transformation very well, she doesn’t really do the hardship, or the pain. This is partly in the writing, too, however; the play feels like an uneasy hybrid of finger-wagging moral parable and not all that funny domestic comedy. It’s certainly not vintage Rattigan.
But it’s a good collector’s item, and heralds a year when I suspect that all the critical breast-beating over Rattigan (no-one, not even Tynan, ever dismissed his best plays, as is commonly claimed) may appear to be hollow. There is simply no comparison in quality between The Deep Blue Sea and The Browning Version on the one hand, and Cause Célèbre and In Praise of Love on the other... or is there? We shall soon see.