After the Dance
Oxford Stage Company
Oxford Playhouse, 19-23.11.02

Set in the fag-end of the 1930s, Terence Rattigan's second play is a judgemental look at the not-so-bright, not-so-young things still trying to party as the next generation is busy stacking up the chairs. Originally the play opened in 1939, and only ran for a few weeks before the war changed everyone's concerns. Since then it has had something of the reputation of a lost masterpiece, but Rattigan himself described the play as "turgid" and certainly it is rather wordy and earnest, and occasionally overflows with the bitterness of recently lost innocence. Still, Oxford Stage Company's show is fine matinée fare, full of melodrama and cliché (though none the worse for that), and a great opportunity to see TV comedy regulars giving some outrageously fine performances. We open with a young woman falling for her boyfriend's much older, married guardian, deciding she knows what is best for him, and setting to sorting out his life, starting with the drink.

This rather slight story of sexual attraction and disapproval across the generations blooms into a proper three-hanky tragedy as poor David (an endearing Michael Siberry), bumbling and easily led, is prised from his wife, played with brittle sophistication and poignant desolation by Catherine Russell, by Helen (an ambitious performance from Anna Hope), nicely unlikeable with her beauty and youth and monopoly on truth. Jamie Parker gives a superbly sensitive performance as jilted boyfriend and wronged son Peter from his priggish first appearance to his tarnished reprise in the final act. Star turns come from Bob Barrett, unrepentently parasitic as the couple's ambiguous flatmate, the deliciously drunk and disgraceful Joanna Scanlan, a splendidly acidic Joanne Howarth as Miss Potter, and an amusingly monosyllabic Ed Grant. This is splendid technicolor fare, full of stiff upper lips and hard romantic choices, and highly recommended.

Jeremy Dennis 19.11.02

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