Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Bernard Lawrence
Reviewer: Alex Ramon
The Public Reviews Rating:
The centenary of Terence Rattigan’s birth has been celebrated with several high-profile productions throughout the year, notably Trevor Nunn’s gorgeous revival of Flare Path at Theatre Royal Haymarket and Thea Sharrock’s staging of Cause Célébre at the Old Vic, while a season dedicated to Rattigan at Chichester this summer presented The Deep Blue Sea and The Browning Version alongside newly-commissioned plays based upon the writer’s life and work.
Less attention has been given to Rattigan’s comedies, however, a situation that it’s fallen to Hampstead’s Pentameters Theatre to rectify with a charming production of While the Sun Shines. Rattigan’s 1943 play, which was made into a film by Anthony Asquith in 1947, takes place during World War II, its action unfolding in the Albany apartment of Robert, Earl of Harpenden (Matthew Jordan), on the day before his marriage to Elizabeth (Naomi Day), a WAAF. It’s a match that neither party seems especially enthusiastic about, and, on the eve of the event, Elizabeth finds herself drawing the romantic attentions of two other men: Joe Mulvaney (Simeon Oakes), an American Air Force lieutenant, and Colbert (Guy Callan), a colonel in the Free French Army. The appearance of Elizabeth’s garrulous, gambling pater (Michael Loughman) and Robert’s old flame Mabel (Gabriella Gadsby) adds to the comic complications.
The material is lightweight, and Rattigan’s inevitable recourse to the three act structure drags it out unnecessarily, making the conclusion feel over-extended. But Bernard Lawrence’s unfussy and simply-staged production, enhanced by a lovely selection of period tunes, makes for an entertaining evening nonetheless, raising chuckles throughout as well as a few big laughs. Much of the humour comes from the cultural clashes between the three male protagonists, but the stereotypes are drawn with affection, as well as some surprising and even teasingly subversive touches. There is, for example, a delightfully queer opening scene between Robert and Joe, in which the former explains to the latter just how they ended up spending the night in the same bed. As a piece that engages with the romantic entanglements of men and women in WWII the play also makes a most interesting companion piece to Flare Path: what was played for poignancy there plays as farce here.
The production boasts enjoyable comic performances, notably from Jordan, from the effervescent Gadsby as a shrewd good time gal, and from Oakes (who’s especially adorable when playing befuddled or indignant), while Nick Simons underplays skilfully as Robert’s long-suffering manservant. Naomi Day is stuck with a somewhat thankless role as the prim Elizabeth but she has some amusing deadpan moments and makes her mark in the big seduction scene with Oakes, one of the evening’s highlights.
As a play, While the Sun Shines can be classified as nothing other than a minor work. But this good-spirited production proves most welcome, bringing the year’s run of Rattigan revivals to a fun and festive end.