The Art of Concealment, Jermyn Street Theatre, January 2012

Remember Burgess and Maclean, Philby, Blunt? All concealed their treason very cleverly, and all were gay. In those days homosexual actions were a crime, and concealment part of the game. Britain’s great playwright, Terence Rattigan managed it flawlessly, and this play by Giles Cole shows how he concealed his sexual orientation from both parents all their lives. It’s moving, riveting, and sad, because in the end Rattigan cannot let slip the mask he put on, even though concealment was no longer strictly necessary.

Dominic Tighe as the young Rattigan, all images Oscar Blustin

This beautifully crafted play starts as it ends with Alistair Findlay as a world-weary Rattigan at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket in 1977 where Cause Célèbre, revived last year at the Old Vic, was first performed, not long before Rattigan’s death. From there we are transported back to his schooldays at Harrow. Dominic Tighe was superb as a brilliantly self-controlled young Rattigan, and Graham Pountney and Judy Buxton made entirely convincing parents, his father Frank as an utterly charming ladies’ man, and his effervescent mother, so enthusiastic for his success. It’s at Harrow that his father tells the boy the real reason he had to leave the diplomatic service, and though Terry understood his mother’s pain at the turn events took he shared his father’s libido and need to be loved, albeit by men rather than women. His father was warning him to be careful, and he was, but in a different way.

We see a tormented Rattigan, insecure, controlling, occasionally mercurial, but yearning for affection. Fine support here by Christopher Morgan and Graham Pountney as two long-standing gay friends, always in and out of his apartment, and Daniel Bayle and Charlie Hollway as two young lovers.

Judy Buxton as Rattigan's mother

Cole has managed to give us the gay Rattigan, but also the playwright facing his audience, and Judy Buxton doubles as Aunt Edna, his personification of the well-off, middle class woman of conventional tastes for whom he wrote his plays. She eventually speaks her mind, criticising his loss of direction after being faced with the new wave of kitchen sink drama brought about by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. But Rattigan was a brilliant craftsman, an English Chekhov as one biographer has called him, so good at seeing the underlying feelings of others, yet not quite so good at facing himself, and this play allows the young to meet the old. It’s a fascinating study, and Knight Mantell’s production gives it a forward momentum that kept my attention riveted throughout.

Unfortunately the advertised performances are sold out, but there is to be an extra matinée on Thursday, January 26th — for theatre details click here.

And it also looks as if it may move to the King’s Head Theatre in June.

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