LESS THAN KIND
Planet Theatre at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
One of the first plays to be rescued from the back of Rattigan's drawer was this wartime drama, later to become Love In Idleness, a vehicle for the Lunts, who, fittingly, are name-checked in this ur-text.
Less Than Kind, a gloss on Hamlet [like Humble Boy half a century later] was apparently written for another grande dame, Gertie Lawrence, who promptly rejected it.
Sara Crowe was unwell, so for this midweek matinée her huge role was heroically undertaken by Caroline Head, who made an excellent job of the character. Those further down the ladder fitted their roles, and their costumes, rather less well.
The story, somewhat improbably, imagines a glamorous war widow enjoying life as the mistress of a colonial industrialist coopted to Winston's war cabinet. Her young son, in Canada for the duration, returns as hostilities end, now less interested in "white mice and catapults" than in anti-Fascist posturing.
James Wilby gave a relaxed performance as the Canadian "reactionary"; David Osmond was excellent as the boy, catching the period style and the teenage petulance to perfection.
Rattigan's own youthful views are reflected in Michael's dreams of a brave new world, the end of the glitterati and the fat cats.
The play's happy ending seems trite today – the mother chooses penury and her son over Park Lane and her lover. She reads The Tatler on one side of the cheap dining table in her dingy Baron's Court flat, he Labour Weekly on the other. But souls are sold for love, there is an unlikely reconciliation between Sir John and the boy, and they all three travel in the chauffeur-driven car to the Dorchester.
The setting, especially the opening with smoke and search-lights over the swanky flat, was well conceived, and the Lunts would have appreciated the entrance light on the upstage door.
This kind of Brief Encounter brittleness is easy to parody, less easy to pull off today. Adrian Brown's production for Planet Theatre was an admirable attempt at breathing life into this lost oddity.