LESS THAN KIND
by Terence Rattigan.
Tour to 7 April 2012.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 March.
Wartime comedy that’s more than a little akin to Hamlet.
Fashion’s been in-and-out for Terence Rattigan, West End darling turned outdated pariah, turned period classic. And it would be possible to view this wartime play unsympathetically as an exercise in reducing Hamlet to a middle-class domestic comedy. If it’s not Hamlet without the Prince (that’s Michael Brown, aged 17 years, 8 months) it’s Hamlet without the soliloquies.
One element of Shakespeare’s play it, perhaps surprisingly, retains is a political context. This isn’t just the growling optimism of Winston Churchill’s speeches heard before each part in Adrian Brown’s production (seen first in early 2011, for the Rattigan centenary, at London’s tiny Jermyn Street Theatre and now expanded for this tour).
Coming home to London from Canada, Michael is surprised to find his widowed mother has moved in with Sir John Fletcher, wartime Minister for Tanks. Fletcher is Canadian and left-leaning Michael hates his reactionary views. It leads to political clashes that might be heard today – freeing employers from red-tape, income gaps in society – as well as bearing on Britain’s internal wartime dialogue of how post-war society should be organised.
In a surprise move, Rattigan swaps the smart setting that had Michael wondering about costs for a shabby, deserted Barons Court dentist’s rooms in the last act, after Sara Crowe’s Olivia sides with her son and rejects her wealthy lover. Crowe’s hair flattens and her bright features become pasty with the financial confinement, and there’s little sense her son, reading progressive political journals and taking in Russian films at the Paris Pullman, has much to say to his Tatler-devouring mum.
Rattigan has to force the plot somewhat – no two people can clinch and kiss without a door opening for an inopportune revelation. But he gives fair voice to each character, including Sir John’s wife (Diana Head, smiling through fanciful dress-sense and bookies’ debts), and he pays his dues to war-time Austerity with attention to the cost of things. James Wilby’s Fletcher is forceful yet sympathetic, David Osmond’s son-of-Hamlet provides smooth politeness alongside driven virulence, while Crowe’s voice, turbo-charging key phrases for comic impact, gives depth to the character’s lightness of mind.
Sir John Fletcher: James Wilby.
Olivia Brown: Sara Crowe.
Michael Brown: David Osmond.
Diana Fletcher: Caroline Head.
Polton: Katie Evans.
Miss Del: Michelle Morris.
Director: Adrian Brown.
Designer: Amy Yardley.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Luis Alvarez.
Voice coach: Rick Lipton.
Costume: Suzi Lombardelli.