The Theatreguide.London Review
Rattigan's 1938 drama is on one level an indictment of the flapper
generation of the 1920s as they inch toward middle age - as someone
says in the play, 'It's the Bright Young People, only they never were
bright and now they're not even young.'
at the same
time it deals, with his customary sympathy, with the subject of all his
plays, the dilemma of people facing emotions they're not equipped for,
either because they've never had them before or because their culture
represses any open feeling or expression of feeling.
centre is David, 30-something playboy who imagines himself an amateur
historian but actually spends his life party-going and party-giving,
drinking himself to death while those around him either try not to
notice, like his equally trivial wife, or joke away any cares, like his
obligatory court-jester friend.
pretty young thing who, like all pretty young things in plays, is
convinced that her love and guidance can save David and who, like all
such figures, brings only disaster.
somewhat formulaic - you ought to be able to spot every turn it takes
in advance - but his interest is more in what it feels like for these
specific characters to go through this old familiar story.
becomes infatuated with Helen, but discovers that he's not really up to
the challenge of freedom, and is as paralysed by choice as he was by
inertia. His wife, who had carefully built and sustained the world of
surface and triviality that David was most comfortable in, realises
there is no room in that construct for the very real love she feels for
him, or any way for her to tell him of it.
friend, who inevitably is a wise and caring counsellor under his
motley, has to face the fact that once he gets serious he can't retreat
back behind the guise of not caring.
drama is, just as it is in The Browning Version or The Deep Blue Sea or
Rattigan's other plays - in watching people cross a line into new and
frightening emotional territory.
production finds just the right balance between the cool and critical
observation of these deeply shallow people and sympathy for their
struggles to function outside their comfort zones.
Cumberbatch never lets us fantasise that David is really capable of
change, but makes us see that even this little man's pain is real and
worthy of sympathy. Nancy Carroll sensitively takes the wife on a
journey from social butterfly to feeling woman disguised as butterfly,
and the ever-reliable Adrian Scarborough effortlessly steals all his
scenes as the serious-behind-the-joking friend.
be honest, few
of the characters in this play are particularly admirable human beings,
and I could understand if you had difficulty caring about their
adventures or fates. It was part of Rattigan's genius that he did care,
that he recognised that small people's small emotions were big to them.
if you let him
guide you to the same recognition and sympathy, After The Dance can be
a quietly but movingly satisfying drama.
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After The Dance - National Theatre 2010