Review: After The Dance – Lyttelton, National Theatre

The National Theatre have jumped the gun on the 2011 Terrence Rattigan Centenary with After The Dance the “lost” Rattigan and it’s not hard to fathom why it’s remained practically un-found since the premiere in 1939.

Even a pitch-perfect production such as this cannot disguise a thin story peopled with the kind of annoying characters one almost wishes the second world war upon.

That’s the point, of course, the generation that escaped the first world war grew fat, idle, decadent and spoilt says Rattigan, but spending two and a half hours with them palls ever so slightly. In French Without Tears it’s okay because it’s all whimsey, here there’s a tragedy.

The programme carries a fabulous photo of a 30’s party in full-blown cocaine and martini fuelled swing.

Our ‘hero’, for instance, is a useless writer and emotionally stunted, but at least he’s played by the perfectlyformed Benedict Cumberbatch. How often is the voice neglected these days, odd when that’s how it all began, the acting thing, with the voice, no good auditioning for Aeschylus if you didn’t have a voice to fill the Colosseum.

It’s not all about the size but quality too – so fittingly and effortlessly deployed here by BC. In fact full marks should go to the NT’s casting department who have excelled themselves from the Doctor cameo of Giles Cooper, elegantly played and a lesson in appropriate etiquette for the period to Adrian Scarborough’s podgy parlour parasite.

The programme carries a fabulous photo of a 30’s party in full-blown cocaine and martini fuelled swing. The party glimpsed on stage in Act 2 seems tame by comparison, if that’s Thea Sharrock’s idea of decadent abandon she needs to get out more, brilliant as she is.

At times it’s hysterically funny but my laughing was not encouraged by the tut tutting audience around me, 99% of whom were probably at the pre-war premiere, perhaps they knew of the melodramatic tragedy Rattigan shoe-horns into Act 2 to give the story substance.

It’s an odd love story that sees Cumberbatch’s character abandon his elegant and beautiful wife for an irritating busy-body. Do National Theatre audiences get your goat too sometimes? I got a ticket allocation of one, not complaining, very grateful and I heartily recommend After the Dance if you can get a ticket, but it’s no fun is it? Sitting on your own surrounded by people who just don’t get it.

Runs until 11th August 2010

– Josh Logan

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