After the Dance by Terence Rattigan
Before I poop the party, I want to say that an excellent set of performance are at the heart of this production of After the Dance.
Emma Sweeney excels, incandescent as the heartbreaking Joan Scott-Fowler, her gaiety becoming more and more brittle and shrill as disaster descended upon her. Justin Pledger captures the insufferable nature of David Scott-Fowler, charming and feeble by turns, exposing glimpses of the ‘if only’ potential that tantalises and frustrates and Tim O’Keefe as long time friend and hanger-on John Reid brings a sharp sense of self-loathing (and anybody else loathing for that matter) to his character, clear-sighted and sensible but seeing nothing (correctly as it turns out) but disappointment ahead. Able support is delivered by Laura Kenward (determined and goal driven to the point of insensitivity) and Andrew Newbon (sustained by a vision of happiness and watching it disintegrate before him) as Helen and Peter, the young couple from the new, serious and ‘deeply boring’ generation, held slightly in contempt and slightly in envy by the ageing ‘Bright Young Things.’
The idea of people being selfishly, carelessly rich and turning their back on the world’s problems must surely strike a contemporary chord with the audience?
I said something earlier about being a party pooper and the problem for me with After the Dance (even factoring in the ‘it’s dated, rather’ factor) is that for all the cleverness of its dialogue and the acute social observation of the upper classes at play, probably a revelation to 1939 audiences, the play has the feel of a drama by numbers piece, clever phrases, whimsical observations on the human condition, the stoic suffering of being ‘in love’ stiff upper lip style. They all feel tacked together and given a fresh coat of wit. Somewhere at the heart of the play the story fails to become profound and with that failure the tragedy becomes brittle and inconsequential.
Pauline Armour’s direction is crisp and the evocation of the period is well-wrought both in costumes, music and a lovely looking Mayfair drawing room set. Excellent cameo playing too from Karen O’Neill as the pragmatic and critical Miss Potter, Angie Brignall as the always squiffy, toy boy carrying Julia Browne and Samantha Rowlands as the flamboyant, unrepentant drug-addict, Moya Lexington. Kyle Cluett amused as rapidly disintegrating drunk Lawrence Walters and Jason Merriman provided a solid, reliable figure as Arthur Power, the man who might have been for Joan, dependable and successful.
This was a very good production but the play left me wanting, Like many of its characters, it just seemed too slight and trivial to convince. Who knows? Perhaps that was what Rattigan intended.