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The Theatreguide.London Review

 
Man and Boy
Duchess Theatre, Spring 2005

Terrence Rattigan is an out-of-fashion playwright long overdue for a major re-evaluation upward. But when that happens, this 1963 oddment will not be a major argument on his behalf.

Set in 1934, the play is built around one of those mythical middle European multimillionaires, a shady wheeler-dealer whose house of cards is beginning to tumble. In the first half of the play we watch with no small degree of fascination and even admiration as he works feverishly to keep it from collapsing.

With complete ruthlessness, quick thinking and the significant advantage of not being handicapped by morality, he talks rings around one opponent, exploits the secret weaknesses of another, and even uses his own son in a particularly despicable ploy.

There's a subplot about his estrangement from his son, but since it centres on the particularly uninteresting character of the boy, you won't care about it. All the play's energy is in this frantic but confident amoral dynamo, and there is, unquestionably, a lot of fun in watching him at work, much like the dirty enjoyment generated by the slimy villains of TV soaps.

It's trash, of course, but enjoyable trash with a good deal of theatrical energy to it, like pulp fiction or well-made TV. At the interval I was considering recommending this as a guilty pleasure.

And then, in the second act, it all falls apart. Rattigan was always a sentimentalist at his core, which may be why he'll never make it into the very top rank, and the second act of Man and Boy goes incredibly soft and gooey.

The main character changes personality completely, from virile and inventive to impotent and despairing, and the play shifts from the excitement of watching him at work to the pathos of watching him quietly crumble. Unconvincingly, he loses the will to fight, and even to live, and some of the minor characters we had enjoyed watching him manipulate now have to care for him.

It's not very convincing, but, far worse, it's no longer interesting. All the energy goes out of the play, and all the air goes out of the room.

Actor David Suchet and director Maria Aitken both have a lot of fun with the first act, but seem at a total loss as to how to play the second or how to integrate it into the character they've established. The always reliable David Yelland and Colin Stinton provide admirable support, but the rest of the cast are faceless.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Man and Boy - Duchess 2005