Cause Célèbre, Old Vic, London
Rocket to the Moon, NT Lyttelton, London
One-on-One Festival, BAC, London

A downbeat Rattigan revival tells the true story of Alma Rattenbury, her young lover, and their murder trial

Anne-Marie Duff is slinking downstairs in fluid silk and scarlet lipstick. Cause Célèbre sees the Old Vic adding to the centenary surge of Terence Rattigan revivals. And his final play – written in the Seventies but set in 1935 – is based on the real-life case of Alma Rattenbury.

She gained notoriety, at the age of 39, as a suburban femme fatale. Having an affair with her 18-year-old chauffeur, George, she ended up in the dock with him, jointly accused of murdering her elderly husband. Even before the jury had heard the evidence, a scandalised press and vituperative crowds – amassing at the Old Bailey – concluded that it was Alma who should hang, for seducing and manipulating a naive young lad.

Duff is the best thing about this courtroom drama, wherein Rattigan (a gay playwright) essentially defends the sexually unorthodox Mrs Rattenbury as less wicked than conservative England presumed. When Duff first sets eyes on Tommy McDonnell's strapping George, she invests Alma's coquettishness with a fascinating kind of innocence. Flashing smiles with her golden curls thrown back, she clearly doesn't feel guilty about her fling, maintaining what looks like an affectionate but sexless marriage.

In other respects, alas, Thea Sharrock's production will disappoint anyone expecting a rival to Rattigan's After the Dance – recently staged at the NT by the same director. Sharrock certainly hasn't drawn top performances from her cast, which includes Niamh Cusack as a prudish juror. Stiffly lining up characters on the apron stage doesn't help, but the play is also to blame.

A drama originally for radio, and adapted for stage, with a struggle, by Rattigan himself, is here landed with a lumbering set, its motorised second storey inching up and down, as if it had a mind to squelch the scenes going on beneath it. Most radical are the moral complexities we're left to weigh up, with each lover trying to protect the other, claiming to be the sole killer with no accomplice.

In Clifford Odets' 1938 Rocket to the Moon, Ben (Joseph Millson) is a maritally and professionally downtrodden dentist. Approaching 40, he becomes besotted with Cleo (Jessica Raine), his 19-year-old secretary. She's also being pursued by Ben's pushier father-in-law (Nicholas Woodeson).

Ben's infatuation coincides with a sweltering New York summer, but Angus Jackson's production takes time to warm up. No doubt intimacy is hard to generate in an echoey, high-ceilinged waiting room. Raine must, it seems, shout, which isn't alluring. I also struggled to believe that Millson could be entranced by Cleo's stereotypically tarty mincing and preening. But it could be that Raine just needs to reveal more endearing vulnerability between her amusingly brash faux pas. Though it may improve, the pacing seemed rushed on press night, making Odets' dialogue sound, sometimes, like a string of maxims. For all that, Rocket to the Moon is winningly humorous and poignant too, with Ben's repressed desperation beautifully conveyed.

Finally, I engaged in some unorthodox intimacies myself at BAC's boundary-pushing One-on-One Festival, agreeing to be bathed naked then embraced by a stranger – a performance artist called Adrian Howells. Maybe I never quite shed my paranoia about whether the tub had been properly scrubbed. That aside, I found The Pleasure of Being: Washing, Feeding and Holding charmingly gentle (and completely non-sexual). We had a quiet giggle about this being pretty weird for an actor and a critic, as he cuddled me like a baby and stroked my head. I think this could also be – for anyone feeling unhappy with their body – a comforting experience.

By comparison, some other one-to-one experimentalists seem socially and artistically underdeveloped. Surrender yourself to The Collection of Fears and Desires and you'll probingly be quizzed about what you dread and yearn for, only to be left seeing yourself out. Where the Wild Things Sleep is mock-scary fun, leading into a darkened bedroom as a wolf's tail whisks out of sight and you climb up into a swinging bunk. But then you're annoyingly left in the lurch.

Kazuko Hohki's little teaser is more technically sophisticated as you recline on a futon and a radio strikes up a conversation with you. I also enjoyed playing cat-and-mouse in a hotel suite with flickering lights and a ghoulish businesswoman (Hannah Ringham) who materialises through walls. All in all, an adventurous medley. Last week, the Arts Council cut funding for the BAC by 11 per cent. At least this new enterprise, fostering artists-in-residence, will save the latter a few bob, lodging them in the One-on-One bedrooms when the party is over.



'Cause Célèbre' (0844 871 7628) to 11 Jun; 'Rocket to the Moon' (020-7452 3000) to 21 Jun; One-on-One Festival (020-7223 2223) to 9 Apr



Next Week

Kate Bassett takes a dip in Wastwater, Simon Stephens' new Royal Court play

Theatre Choice



Cheek by Jowl's startling Russian production of The Tempest (with surtitles) is at the Barbican, London (7 to 16 Apr). Prospero's isle is a realm of tough love and power-grabbing, yet with humour and enchanting music. Mike Leigh restages his slice-of-life Ecstasy (1979) with slow-moving but exquisite naturalism at Hampstead Theatre (to 9 Apr).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits