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
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

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.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style