ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The Art of Concealment
Rattigan was homosexual and for most of his life homosexuality was illegal until it was legalised for adult men in 1967. He was also from a generation that had secrets and this is often reflected in his plays with their delicate and moving descriptions of private turmoil and emotional distress. The Art of Concealment opens and closes with Rattigan’s older self (Brian Deacon) in a box at Her Majesty’s Theatre Haymarket in 1977 at the opening performance of his play Cause Célèbre as he looks back on his life.
We meet Terence’s (Ashley Cook) womanising, diplomat father Frank (Graham Pountney) and his mother Vera (Judy Buxton) and hear about his time at Harrow School followed by Trinity College, Oxford and his first play, French Without Tears, produced when he was just 25. Most of the scenes that follow are in Rattigan’s inner circle of friends who are aware of and share his sexual orientation. There is his supporter the critic Cuthbert Worsley (Oliver Hume) and Freddie Gilmour (Graham Pountney), a friend invented for the play but based on an amalgamation of friends from Rattigan’s milieu. There is also a succession of pretty young men that Rattigan fell for, all played by Ewan Goddard.
The first act concentrates on Rattigan’s success, the second on his fading from popularity” and his breakdown. There are attractive speeches about playwriting and how plays present ideas. There is regret that David Lean’s film of Lawrence of Arabia pre-empts and eclipses plans to film Ross, Rattigan’s play about TE Lawrence, another man who sought privacy. There are details sourced from Rattigan’s private writing, a comment on the size and shape of Gielgud’s nose, a phone conversation presumably with Noël Coward and reference to Rattigan’s sponsorship of Joe Orton’s writing.
It is satisfying to know that plays like The Winslow Boy, The Deep Blue Sea, Flare Path, Separate Tables and The Browning Version will endure as examples of Rattigan’s fine playwriting. We also have seen brilliant and successful revivals of Cause Célèbre and After the Dance and hope that these rare Rattigan gems will continue to be mined.
The performances are good, Ashley Cook is appealing and reserved and Oliver Hume has great warmth as a true friend. There is lots of rather affected and self consciously stylish cigarette smoking! Judy Buxton plays both Rattigan’s mother and his fictional audience member “Aunt Edna” who Rattigan says he wrote for.
The set cleverly incorporates all the locations without the necessity to move anything around but I do wish they had got his RAF uniform right. The actor was wearing a Wing Commander’s uniform with full pilot wings and the hat was curiously pinched down instead of being flat. Rattigan was a Flight Lieutenant, an air gunner in Coastal Command, not a pilot.
The success of The Art of Concealment is as a homage to Rattigan’s talent and portrait as a man, who “liked giving presents but . . . not so good at giving affection.” He often gave boys a gold cigarette case and then saw the cases being used having been gifted away to others. The question is, Would Rattigan have been able to write these wonderful plays in an age more tolerant to gay relationships or was his private suffering what produced such wonderful writing?
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.