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Rattigan's Nijinsky (Chichester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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There have been plenty of revivals of Rattigan's plays to tie in with his centenary but Nicholas Wright has taken a play that wasn't and worked an intriguing drama around it.

In 1973, Rattigan was commissioned by the BBC to write a play based on the life of Nijinsky and his relationship with Diaghilev, The play was never performed: Rattigan withdrew it after being pressurised by Nijinsky's widow, Romola. In his play, Wright focuses on conversations that Rattigan has with the BBC and with Romola, interspersed with scenes from the screenplay.

There are some shrewd insights. In a short, but funny scene, Rattigan's mother asks, “why does the truth have to be so ugly?”

It's an appropriate question to ask Rattigan, who was renowned for his ability to bury powerful, emotional themes under several layers. For his final screenplay, Rattigan wished to be more honest and present two men in a gay relationship without any coded messages. In the ultimate irony,of course, Rattigan can't be true to himself and pulls the play.

As Rattigan, Malcolm Sinclair captures the essence of a man, outwardly content with the trappings of success – the Claridges suite, the MCC membership, the three houses - but constantly fearful that his homosexuality is to be discovered.

In an intriguing doubling of roles, Jonathan Hyde is an over-the-top Diaghilev (no subtle hints and coded messages there) and a blunt-speaking BBC producer, full of rat-like cunning as he wheedles Rattigan to complete the play, while dreaming of casting Felicity Kendal as Romola.

Joseph Drake makes a decent fist of the complex Nijinsky while Susan Tracy portrays the contrasting roles of Romola Nijinsky, jealously protecting her husband's reputation and Rattigan's oh-so-English mother.

Director Philip Franks handles the juxtaposition of Rattigan's life with the action of the screenplay deftly but there's something slightly unsatisfying about the venture. We get a glimpse of Rattigan's private life and rather more of a glimpse of Nijinsky's – but no real sense of his personality.

It's rather like getting a tasting menu but not having a chance to chomp on the main course. Perhaps the BBC will finally air the Nijinsky screenplay in full so we can see for ourselves – even if we won't get to see Felicity Kendal.

- Maxwell Cooter


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