Heads Up: Rattigan's Nijinsky

The 'British Chekhov' leads audiences on a not-so-merry dance

Holly Williams
Sunday 05 June 2011 00:00 BST
(Gordon Anthony / Getty Images)

What are we talking about?

In 1974, Terence Rattigan penned a TV script about a meeting between Sergei Diaghilev – the man behind the Ballets Russes – and Vaslav Nijinsky, the famous dancer.

The screenplay was later mysteriously withdrawn by Rattigan, never to be seen. Now, a new play premiering at the Chichester Festival imagines why. It dramatises a meeting between a dying Rattigan and Nijinsky's widow, Romola, who scrap over Rattigan's script. In the same room – and drawing on the real-life Rattigan's real-life screenplay – Diaghilev and a younger Romola have a fight over Nijinsky. Yes, it is a bit complicated.

Elevator Pitch

After the Dance: re-imagining Rattigan.

Prime Movers

Rattigan, who, thanks to his centenary this year, appears to be the prime mover of 2011 in general. Nicholas Wright, who adapted Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials for the stage, wrote the play; Philip Franks, who also stages Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, is in the director's chair.

The Talent

The cast, which includes Jonathan Hyde as Diaghilev and Malcolm Sinclair as Rattigan, also double up for The Deep Blue Sea.

The Early Buzz

Lifestyle magazine After Hours interviewed Franks, reporting that the "actor/director is the chief architect of the Rattigan season at Chichester ... to prepare for the Rattigan marathon, Franks had to read his way through the writer's Collected Works." Asked if it was "a voyage of discovery", he replied: "Not really. I still think that Rattigan is the English Chekhov."

Insider Knowledge

The festival features another new response to a Rattigan play: David Hare's South Downs is a reply to The Browning Version. Both one-act plays, they will be performed together.

It's great that...

As Wright had access to, and drew directly on, Rattigan's screenplay, the evening is being billed as "the staging of two world premieres at once".

It's a shame that...

After Cause Célèbre, Flare Path and In Praise of Love, plus Blue Sea in Leeds and Rattigan seasons at the BBC and BFI, audiences might be all Ratted out.

Hit Potential

It's an intriguing premise and a fresh approach, although that does mean the production lacks the bankability of some better-known works.

The Details

Rattigan's Nijinsky is at the Festival Theatre, Chichester (cft.org.uk), 19 July to 3 September.

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