It’s with some sense of foreboding I approach a ‘lost’ work of art in any medium: it’s a truism that their respective authors didn’t release them into the wider world for a reason. Sometimes it’s due to writing something scandalous for the time (like Forster’s posthumous gay-themed Maurice) but usually it’s because it’s pretty poor (see last year’s lost Noel Coward play Volcano).
Terence Rattigan’s Less Than Kind was written during the war and hasn’t been produced until now. Sort of. Due to some interference from its Broadway stars it was re-written and produced as Love in Idleness which was later used as ammunition against the author, proof that he was a cynical reactionary. Which was pretty much the view anyway of my companion for the evening, Benjamin. The play shows that either young political radicals sell out their ideals at the first whiff of serious money, or that love conquers all. It may, or may not, be a a cynical play but it’s certainly a very funny, well acted and emotionally engaging one.
Widow Olivia Brown (Sue Holderness) is romantically attached to industrialist Sir John Fletcher (William Gaminara) who is separated from his society-hostess wife Diana (Laura Doddington). Olivia’s son Michael (Charlie Hamblett) comes back from a childhood evacuation to Canada an idealistic radical, appalled that his mother is sleeping with the Capitalist enemy. Michael, and the play as a whole, then borrows self-consciously from Hamlet with the son in a state of perpetual anger over his mother’s new partner.
Politically the play’s ambiguous. Both the radical and the reactionary score hits against the opposing side more or less equally. And Michael’s final capitulation can, if you squint and with the sun behind it, be seen more as romantic than venal. But it’s a finely crafted comedy with some exceptionally deft performances. Hamblett makes what could have been an insufferable prig (or ‘moral gangster with an Odeipus complex‘) an absolutely lovable if headstrong adolescent. Sue Holderness gives Olivia a strength, humour and decency which makes her an entirely realised character and William Gaminara has the charm and gravitas to make you understand why Olivia fell in love with him in the first place.
Continues at the Theatre Royal, Brighton until Sat June 1.