The Browning Version, Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames, September 2009Posted on 14 September 2009
This production by Peter Hall of Terence Rattigan’s play about a classics master at boarding school, was beautifully performed. Peter Bowles was utterly convincing as the dried-out classics master, Crocker-Harris, who has recently suffered a heart attack and is now resigning from the school to take up a less stressful position at a crammer. Charles Edwards was superb as the engagingly human science master, Frank Hunter, and his rather cold affair with Crocker-Harris’s wife, played by Candida Gubbins, was well-portrayed. James Laurenson was good as the non-entity of a headmaster, and James Musgrave was wonderful as Taplow, the pupil who is keen to get his promotion to the ‘remove’, and presents Crocker-Harris with the Browning version of Agamemnon by Aeschylus. The playful mockery of the boys is as nothing compared to the calculated cruelty of Crocker-Harris’s wife, who relates to her husband details of her affairs with the other masters, nor to the cold denial by the trustees of a pension to poor Crocker-Harris, who has served only eighteen years instead of the necessary twenty. Terence Rattigan, and of course Peter Bowles, engage our sympathy for this disappointed scholar who was once a star at Oxford and is now teaching his pupils to read Aeschylus, surely the hardest of the Greek playwrights to understand. What is it that turns bright young people into unloved experts who inspire little more than fear from 99% of their underlings. Whatever it is, Rattigan portrays the result with understanding and regret. An excellent play.