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Separate Tables (Salisbury Playhouse)

It's not without some satisfaction but Rattigan's Separate Tables creaks along with some awkward staging.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Separate Tables
©Richard Davenport

The positives about doing a fine piece of writing such as Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables is that the structure, dialogue and narrative will do a lot of the leg work for you. The problem with doing these great plays is that it accentuates even more if the production isn't up to much cop.. Gareth Machin's production at Salisbury Playhouse feels like it could have come from its 1950's setting but not in a good way; its rickety, old fashioned and prone to some rather shallow performances.

He's not helped by setting the play in the round. For Bedroom Farce (for which it shares many of the same actors and all of the same creative team) it worked, just three beds and plenty of activity ensured a fluidity in the production that is lacking here. The six separate tables dotted around the space mean the staging feels cramped. Rattigan's writing demands a level of stillness in performance, and due to this, from my seat on the side there is a lot of back of head acting. Even Judy Dench would struggle to convey the subtle nuanced emotion of these plays with just that at her disposal.

At least there's the play though. Fully restored to glory in recent years, no doubt helped by a revelatory After The Dance at the National Theatre, it is great to be able to bask in a master of the well-made play. Comprised of two one act pieces Table By The Window and Table Number Seven each are set in the same Bournemouth Hotel, populated by a motley group of long term guests who pop up in both plays with only Robert Perkins as a heavy drinking, Northern, ex dockworker MP and then a Major accused of soliciting men and Kirsty Besterman as the glamorous ex-wife of the Commons representative and a sheltered dormouse yearning for love pulling double duty.

It all trundles on rather tamely even as the writing grips, with a lot of the cast struggling to give anything more than surface, superficial performances. For Rattigan to really get to the heart it needs honest and truthful playing of a style a world away from that of modern life. Ony Besterman's portrayal of the lost women and Carol Starks hotel manageress, Miss Cooper, who sacrifices her own chance of happiness to help reconcile a fractured relationship really find the heat hidden behind the dialogue, whilst Mawgan Gyles and Eleanor Wyld give effective work that confirms the promise they showcased in Bedroom Farce.

It's a production propped up on Rattigan's old war horse of a text. Not without some satisfaction but not getting close to some of the Rattigan revivals of recent years.