Variation On A Theme

  • Theatre
  • Drama
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© Helen Maybanks

'Variation on a Theme'

2/5
© Helen Maybanks

'Variation on a Theme'

3/5
© Helen Maybanks

'Variation on a Theme'

4/5
© Helen Maybanks

'Variation on a Theme'

5/5
© Helen Maybanks

'Variation on a Theme'

Staging the first full-scale production in more than 50 years of a play by Terence Rattigan is a big event – even for the Finborough, which has the revival of neglected plays as part of its raison d’être. The trouble is that there is usually a reason why a play hasn’t been seen in half a century. And so it proves with this intriguing piece: a reworking of Dumas’s ‘La Dame aux Camélias’, set on the French Riviera, and originally staged in London’s West End in 1958.

That first production was given a critical mauling. It’s tempting to ascribe this to its author’s general fall from grace, and Aunt Edna – the imaginary figure to whom Rattigan famously addressed his plays – seemed like a figure from another century in a theatre that had become dominated by angry young men.

But the fault must also have lain with the play, too. Double Olivier nominee Rachael Stirling is superb here as Rose, an ailing social climber torn between marrying for money and for love. The script contains much of Rattigan’s trademark blend of wit and emotional cogency, but Rose’s oscillating between young ballet dancer Ron (Martin McCreadie) and spivvish banker Kurt (Phil Cheadle) never quite rings true. Neither does Ron’s implied bisexuality: shocking on the play’s premiere, and now seeming so deeply subtle as to be quite missable.

Still, Stirling’s performance is a triumph, brilliantly imbued with vulnerability and pastel-shaded glamour. And there is much to enjoy from the rest of the cast in a revival that – despite its flaws – remains an important staging post in the ongoing reappreciation of Rattigan’s work.

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