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Giles Cole On ... Revealing Rattigan

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Giles Cole's new play The Art of Concealment, about the life of playwright Terence Rattigan, runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre from 11 January 2012 (previews from 9 January) until 28 January.

Here, Cole tells us more about the project and why he felt Rattigan's life merited a dramatic interpretation.

The ingredients of Terence Rattigan’s life suggest that he himself might be an intriguing subject for a play.

This becomes even more apparent on reading the two excellent biographies – by Geoffrey Wansell and Michael Darlow – both reissued for the Rattigan centenary year in 2011.

His life story appeared, to this writer, to be ripe for dramatic treatment: a spectacular rise, an even more spectacular fall, his troubled relationships, the inner demons that tormented him, and the concealment he had to practise in order to survive in a world fraught with the danger of exposure. But had there ever been a play about Rattigan himself?

In 2005 Laurie Slade wrote a very engaging fantasy about Rattigan meeting Joe Orton in the imagined presence of Oscar Wilde (Joe and I), and last year Nicholas Wright turned Rattigan’s unproduced Nijinsky screenplay into a fantasy spectacular at Chichester, which also touched on Rattigan the man, but it seemed that there was still room for something more concerned with Rattigan’s whole life and those closest to him.

Accordingly, my play called The Art of Concealment came into being, and was premiered at the Brighton Festival Fringe last May. It imagined the 66-year-old Rattigan, terminally ill, waiting for the curtain to rise on his last West End play, Cause Célèbre, in 1977. It imagined his looking back on previous first nights, some triumphant, some very much the opposite; looking back, too, not in anger – as John Osborne had it in the famous play that toppled Rattigan from his position as golden boy of the West End – but in a kind of amused bewilderment at the pattern of his life.

We see the uppity Harrow schoolboy defying his father, the overly generous party-giver and host, the man who ruled his own private life with an exactitude that hardly encouraged the development of a true relationship, and a man destroyed by his fall from grace - and who descended into a dark world on the edges of paranoia, ranting at the critics and alienating his friends.

Rattigan himself wrote about legendary figures – Alexander the Great, Lawrence of Arabia – and whilst The Art of Concealment has no pretensions to coming anywhere near the class of Rattigan, it does represent one man’s fascination with a legendary figure of the British theatre.


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