After the Dance, NT Lyttelton, London
Love Story, Minerva, Chichester
The Fantasticks, Duchess, London

An assured Rattigan revival proves there's dramatic life in the drawing room yet, while a musical 'Love Story' is saccharine but leaves a sour taste

Drawing-room dramas were once written off as hopelessly passé, full of stuffy or merely silly toffs. British theatre's revolution – famously begun by John Osborne in 1956 – gave the nobs the boot. Terence Rattigan was, instantly, yesterday's man.

Yet his best plays have slowly edged back into favour, exploring suppressed griefs beneath a surface gaiety. In his long-forgotten tragicomedy from 1939, After the Dance – now revived by the National – a river of quiet despair runs under the hedonistic frivolities played out in the Scott-Fowlers' plush Mayfair flat – all silver-green silk, with a darkening sky over the parapet balcony.

David (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his elegant wife Joan (Nancy Carroll) lounge around, pouring themselves snifters and laughing at the flippant quips of their freeloading pal John (Adrian Scarborough). With their dizzy youth far behind them, they still throw wild parties, the booze now taking its toll, and the crisis of the Second World War looming.

David's cash-strapped cousin (John Heffernan) and his girlfriend, Helen (Faye Castelow), are also hanging around the flat, although, as assertively serious-minded twentysomethings, they are teased for being bores. But Helen is covertly hooked on David, and offers him the chance of a fresh start. Perhaps Thea Sharrock's ensemble needs a fraction more fine-tuning and Castelow's high-pitched, cut-glass voice is tiresome, while her comical-going-on-stunning insensitivity would register fully with more pauses. One might wonder, also, if Cumberbatch shouldn't show a few more vulnerable chinks in his armour of suavity.

The play's big emotional revelation comes as a dramatic jolt, as played here (which seems to be a directoral choice: Sharrock could have chosen to drop hints). On the whole, though, the layered complexity of Rattigan's characters is intriguingly handled. Cumberbatch is electric when he's fuming, yet maintains a debonair pose, cigarette aloft. Carroll, in her turn, becomes achingly poignant, privately devastated by events, though her husband is oblivious.

Scarborough is also superb, lolling on the sofa like a fat, dopey Labrador, but razor-sharp when he finally rips into David. Pandora Colin's cameo, as the boho gossip Julia, is hilariously flamboyant, and bruising as well.

This is definitely worth catching and, if you want more, 2011 is the centenary of Rattigan's birth with a BFI retrospective and celebratory productions at Chichester Festival. In the meantime, I could have done without Chichester's Love Story, Erich Segal's slushy tearjerker, adapted from the bestselling novel and Hollywood film into a new chamber musical.

Though Segal wrote the book in 1969, his student sweethearts – Oliver and Jenny – are hardly in tune with the hippie hedonism of the time. Oliver (Michael Xavier) is a preppy Harvard student, while Jenny (Emma Williams) is a scholarship girl and budding concert pianist. Of course, they can't resist each other, yet both contrive to keep their smalls on (even under the sheets) in Rachel Kavanaugh's production. Fair enough, Chichester is blue-rinse, not blue-movie terrain.

What's mind-numbingly corny is the narrative. Stripped down by adaptor and lyricist Stephen Clark, the couple's whirlwind romance is a risibly schematic rushed job. Boy meets girl, they fall into bed and – before you can say "Jeepers!" – he has proposed and it's meet-the-parents (irked on his side, accepting on hers). Then it's the wedding, the move up the property ladder, the plan to have babies, blah, blah.

OK, Love Story was never going to be my cup of tea, not with a ton of sugar poured into the mix. At the same time, though, it leaves a faintly sour taste. In the effort to keep the running time to under two hours, Xavier's Oliver is made peculiarly unattractive by the lack of explanatory background for his pater-loathing vitriol. That he might feel guilty about Jenny ditching her career to be a stay-at-home wife is, likewise, brushed aside in a few lines.

For all that, it is their marriage's very mundanity that makes the sudden tragedy of Jenny's leukaemia hit home. It's hard to remain dry-eyed at the end. Peter Polycarpou manages to be touching and charming as Jenny's adoring Italian-American pop. Kavanaugh makes Clark's fast-forwarding visually fluid. And with a string quintet and grand piano in a white arc upstage, Howard Goodall's score rises above the dialogue, offering rippling, playful sprees of melody, and some haunting ones, too.

Finally, a few words about the West End's latest American musical import, The Fantasticks. Well, gee, you guys, this is unbelievable garbage! Just how this scrappy clown show, which would barely amuse a six-year-old with its muddle of vaudeville, Pyramus and Thisbe and Hispanic bandits – has managed to run for a half-century in New York is a major mystery. Even with Clive Rowe, Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge aboard in London – all with twinkle-toed comic timing – I'd be amazed if this lasts the summer.

'After the Dance' (020-7452 3000) to 11 Aug; 'Love Story' (01243 781312) to 25 Jun; 'The Fantasticks' (0844 4124659) to 4 Sep

Next Week:

Kate Bassett will be viewing Through a Glass Darkly, the Almeida's new Ingmar Bergman adaptation

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test