Friday, 6 August 2010

REVIEW: After the Dance, National Theatre, 4 August

A harsher truth.

Some characters are really hard to empathise with. And Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine, almost surgical job with the lead man of After the Dance. But one suspects that the audience is not meant to care for David but rather watch Terence Rattigan's study of his appalling behaviour as if an insenct under the microscope. The writing is tight but cold and ultimately a bit dull. But one has to admire the dullness as well. Because these people can be very dull in their little tragic lives. (Benedict Cumberbatch is a specialist in repressed douchebags - he can move on now.)

David is appalling, indeed, but not so much out of malice; his shortcoming are, in the end, tragic, and the audience's shortcoming is to expect anything else of the play. David cheats on his wife and we know he didn't resist temptation too much; the girl he falls for is judged cruelly by both characters and audience, who resents the confidence and arrogance of youth (Faye Castelow is perfect in embodying both the spirit of the period and her age). The friend seeing the play besides me really hated her; I didn't, I found easy to forgive her, because she really did what she did for love (or so she thought). David's wife, Joan (brilliant Nancy Carroll, fondly remembered from the underrated Waste at the Almeida) lives all her life in a lie because she is afraid of losing David, but she'd probably have a better chance of keeping him if she had been honest. So much waste, such a tragic missed chance. A play about a lost generation. Adrian Scarborough plays the drunken friend with a keen eye and a big heart, offering commentary to the disastrous relationships, and in the end he achieves some kind of hope of redemption (via moving to grim Manchester).

Rattigan can be brilliant at times but the play lacked dramatic tension and momentum, which okay, I ended up believing it was all on purpose, very modern, or maybe I wanted to like this play so much (Mr.Cumberbatch!) that I liked it against its weaknesses. It was not bland, it was tight, but on the same subject of a lost generation I ended up wishing I was seeing Time and the Conways again (After the Dance was better directed, but then again I really dislike Rupert Goold and everything he does).

Also: Can John Heffernan be my Pip Carter when Pip Carter is not around? (On second thought: Pip Carter, why are you not around? I want you to be on the stage all the time.)

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