The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan / South Downs by David Hare – Harold Pinter Theatre London – Review

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The first play I ever read of Terence Rattigan’s was The Browning Version. Several years ago it cropped up in a college module. I remember it vividly, I cried reading it, and immediately re-read it. Following that I’ve become a huge aficionado of Terence Rattigan and his work.

I’ve said it to people personally that I think The Browning Version is one of the 20th Centuries greatest plays. So it is no surprise that I went to see it at the Harold Pinter Theatre. This was the first time I’ve actually seen it live though, would it have the same impact on me that reading it did?

Nicholas Farrell plays Crocker-Harris the schoolmaster the play is about. It is one of the foremost displays of acting I’ve seen. He plays the prickly character perfectly and leads us perfectly to the moment when the emotion and humanity of him come out with the presentation by Taplow of a gift. Yes, it made me cry, I was moved so much.

A moving performance from Nicholas Farrell as Crocker-Harris

Anna Chancellor plays his wife with flare and drew audible disapproval from the audience when she treats her husband abysmally. The woman behind me uttering loudly “what a cow!”

Liam Morton as pupil Taplow was smashing playing the cheeky schoolboy , with just the right amount of tenderness when he presented the gift to Crocker-Harris. Mark Umbers as the adulterous Frank Hunter turned the tables wonderfully on Mrs Crocker-Harris and the scene where Crocker-Harris and he discuss Mrs Crocker-Harris’s infidelity was especially affecting.

The cast and director Angus Jackson, present here a definitive Browning Version. It took me on the intense emotional journey Rattigan has written and will be a theatrical memory I treasure.

As this is a one-act play it was originally paired with another of Rattigan’s plays Harlequinade . Which is a satirical farce about a company putting on Romeo and Juliet and was written for John Gielgud. Trouble is it is VERY dated and never really worked other than the first time when John Gielgud was in it. So there’s been this situation where the great Browning Version  has been paired with the sub standard Harlequinade. For the Rattigan centenary last year the Rattigan Estate asked David Hare to pen a new companion play for The Browning VersionSouth Downs is his response to the request.

For my most recent college assignment I focused on the plays of David Hare and so have read all his work, with the exception of South Downs as I wanted to see it before reading it (and its subject matter was not applicable to the assignment so I could afford to do that). I really admire Hare’s playwrighting and thoughts on theatre. Some of his plays are triumphs others less so, similar to Rattigan in many ways.

An astounding performance from Alex Lawther as Blakemore

South Downs is a fitting companion play. In this play we see the education system from the eyes of a pupil, Blakemore. Alex Lawther plays misfit pupil Blakemore, this was the performance of the night and may well be my performance of the year, he is remarkable. It brought memories flooding back of what school was like for me and how cruel we were to those that didn’t fit in or had interests/ideas different to “the herd” of the rest of us. Blakemore  is a cleverly written character because I felt I could identify with him as well as his other school friends. I’m sure we all had moments during our schooling when we felt different and uncomfortable with who we were.

Is education a tool teaching the masses to simply fit in and conform? Or can it be used to inspire and transform individuals and society? Is something I was left to ponder on during the interval, and many around could be heard to be discussing the merits of various systems of schooling. It’s an emotional and compelling piece of drama.

So we now have The Browning Version paired with its perfect companion play South Downs. I am overjoyed that this has occurred. Brilliant writing with superb performances makes for a memorable theatrical experience.

STARS : * * * * *

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8 thoughts on “The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan / South Downs by David Hare – Harold Pinter Theatre London – Review

  1. Indeed Jolyon, I’m glad opinion has changed, although a large swathe of academia still seems to think playwrighting stopped after Chekhov and then only began again with Osbourne.

    The ” Rattigan revival” has been a long time coming.

  2. I heard a very good version of the Browning Version on Radio 4 last year. I’ve liked it ever since I saw the film years and years ago. I think Radio 4 did a lot of his plays last year, which was quite interesting.

  3. Radio 4 did several of Rattigan’s for his centenary last year. I missed The Browning Version. A shame they don’t release them for sale. In fact it’s a shame they don’t release a lot of the plays they do for sale.

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