The plays of Rattigan, each one of them a masterpiece in social drama, are woefully underperformed, and this production of After the Dance means to correct that. The play suits the cast perfectly: it is a story of hedonistic ‘bright young things’, who have failed to grow up in the world they live in. The impressive cast has little trouble pulling that off – their portrayals of the various upper-class idlers turn them into some of the most odious, dislikeable people imaginable: think something like the cast of Made in Chelsea in 1939. Such exaggerated performances do come at the small cost of a reduced sense of naturalism for some of the cast, and a few supporting performances seem more like the caricature of an archetype.
Some of the cast, however, execute their parts perfectly – Jordan Waller, playing David, is an excellent example. The division between the lethargic older generation and the proper, younger one manifests itself as a division of class rather than of age, but still comes across well, and on occasion can be quite funny. The production, therefore, looks on the whole to be an overwhelmingly competent one – a set of truly excellent performances which together bring a greatly emotional play to life.
There is, however, one small aspect which struck me as a glaring flaw. The part of Helen (Jessica Norman)is the only role for which detailed characterisation is not provided by the author – as a result, the director Becca Kinder has chosen to leave her ‘ambiguous’. As interesting a concept as this is, on stage it never quite works. She seems like a petulant child one moment, a caring fiancée the next, a prim housewife the moment after. None of this is the fault of Miss Norman, who comes across as a superb actress – she just doesn’t quite seem to know what she’s meant to be doing. As noble as such a dramatic experiment is, the play would gain volumes from one of its central female characters having a little more direction. I saw only the first of four acts, and it is quite possible that later scenes will vindicate Kinder’s choice.
Nevertheless, this flaw isn’t quite enough to put me off wanting to see the rest of the play – at its best it will entertain spectacularly.