While The Sun Shines
by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Christopher Luscombe
Designed by Robert Jones
Bath Theatre Royal
Thursday 21st July 2016, 14.30
Jonathan Dryden Taylor as Horton, manservant to Earl of Harpenden
Rob Heaps, as The Earl of Harpenden (Bobby)
Rupert Young as Lieutenant Mulvaney, USAF
Alexandra Dowling as Lady Elizabeth Randall
Michael Cochrane as The Duke of Ayr and Stirling, also a general and Elizabeth’s father
Nicholas Bishop as Lieutenant Colbert, Free French Forces
Tamla Kari as Mabel Crum
While The Sun Shines was Rattigan’s longest running play, from 1943 it went on for three years, then it was a film in 1947. Yet it’s hardly been performed since. The ongoing (and increasing) Rattigan revival has now reached it with this production. If playwrights have a heaven, there’s one thing I know, Terence is up there crowing “Chips with everything on the kitchen sink? How many Wesker and Osborne productions have there been these last five years?” Of course, TV soaps cut the ground from under the angry young men, doing the same thing just as well, while nothing dates as fast as contemporary protest. While Rattigan and Coward sail happily on.
It’s set in 1943 at Albany (photographically reproduced on the curtain, and on both sides and above the richly-detailed set). The Albany is and was a bachelors only apartment block in London. Famous residents include Terence Rattigan, J.B. Priestley, Lord Byron, Henry Beerbohm Tree, Edith Evans, Terence Stamp, The Earl of Snowdon, and three prime ministers, Canning, Gladstone and Edward Heath. It is also the residence of Earnest (aka Jack Worthing), in The Importance of Being Earnest.
The text for the Bath production cites the 1953 official text, plus bits from the 1943 production, Rattigan’s script for the 1947 film, as well as lines removed by The Lord Chamberlain’s office in 1943. Rattigan wanted to add rewrites in 1972, but they were rejected.
The plot is centred on the sexual free for all in World War II London, when the imminent prospect of death changed sexual habits. It all takes place in four scenes over 24 hours. Bobby, the wealthy Earl of Harpenden rescues a drunken American officer from the pavement and allows him to sleep in his “chambers” as flats at Albany are called, in fact sharing his bed. Bobby is due to marry his fiancée, Lady Elizabeth, the next day. Being a generous chap, in the morning he offers to set Lieutenant Joe Mulvaney up with his old mistress, Mabel Crum. Through the normal farce misadventures, Elizabeth arrives instead of Mabel. Bobby has just left, and Mulvaney mistakes Elizabeth for Mabel and makes a play for her. Lieutenant Colbert is a French officer who spent 10 hours on the train with Elizabeth overnight from Inverness, and who also turns up and urges her not to marry Bobby.
The Duke (Michael Cochrane) with Mabel Crum (Tamla Kari)
The Duke, a senior army officer, is Elizabeth’s red-faced dad, an inveterate gambler, deeply in debt, who needs her to marry Bobby. He’s also had a previous encounter or three with Mabel. After being kissed by Joe, Elizabeth breaks it off with Bobby. All three guys … Harpenden, Colbert and Mulvaney are competing for Elizabeth and decide to resolve the issue by shooting craps. The duke joins the game. The rejected Bobby proposes to the cheerful Mabel instead … all is resolved happily and Bobby and Elizabeth end up together due to Mabel’s sweet and good-natured assistance.
OK, it’s straight farce. The four men worked brilliantly together, with masterly comic timing and direction. Their “competition” in scene two is hilarious, beautifully plotted, and all four come out extremely well. Rattigan is on sure ground with the aristocratic quipping.
Rob Heaps as Bobby, Earl of Harpenden
Accolades all round. Rob Heaps as the Earl of Harpenden has a classic young English aristocrat role (Wilde’s Algernon, or a less dumb Bertie Wooster) but is a natural for it, and takes it relaxed, confidently and engagingly. If I were casting Algernon tomorrow, he’d be first choice.
Rupert Young’s Mulvaney had height to help him look well-fed American in contrast, and I’m hypercritical, but I didn’t hear the American accent ring false ever. No doubt the audiences of 1943 adored the awe-struck Yank, addressing Bobby and the general as “Earl” and “Duke” and marvelling that Bobby had a manservant to put his boots on for him.
I was fascinated by Colbert (Nicholas Bishop). This play was a major 1940s success, and the role (at least here) is full of well-taken Inspector Clouseau-esque references. Peter Sellers would surely have seen the play, so perhaps the line is Colbert to Clouseau to ‘Allo ‘Allo. This is the classic stage funny Frenchman. He has an amusingly strong accent, while speaking advanced level grammatical English peppered with Comment? and Tiens! He knows that the English learned le fair play on the playing fields of Eton (I went to Harrow! protests Bobby.) He gets a huge laugh when he concludes the play by saying The English have muddled through! not the sort of idiomatic phrasal verb taught to many foreigners.
As for Michael Cochrane he was perfectly cast as the Duke / Army officer … with major gambling losses, an addiction to gambling and an autistic attitude to anyone else’s time schedules. He tries to chat away in French to Colbert with the sort of heavily English-accented French that all my French teachers spoke at school. I recall one who started every lesson with Ooo-Vray La Fenn-Etra, and we concluded he’d been told you should use French in class in an authentic situation, but it was the only phrase he actually knew. That window was opened in howling gales and on two feet of snow. If only he’d learned fermez. The general is fond of allez-vous-en!
Horton (Jonathan Dryden Taylor) is the manservant, a calm collected unflappable Jeeves to Bobby’s Wooster. The direction shows in moments such as when Horton is turfed out of his room to sleep on the sofa and painstakingly removes his slippers, fluffs up pillows and carefully prepares the blanket.
Lieutenant Mulvaney (Rupert Young) & Lady Elizabeth (Alexandra Dowling)
The two female roles go to Alexandra Dowling and Tamla Kari, who work together in the TV series The Musketeers, which has been an unmissable weekly event for us. Ms Dowling goes from Queen Anne on TV to the lovely Elizabeth, daughter of a duke, and an RP RAF corporal, while Tamla Kari (her servant in The Musketeers ) is Mabel Crum, the tart with a heart of a gold.
While they couldn’t be played better, both have a problem. Rattigan writes poorly for women, and appallingly badly for working class characters, so that Mabel Crum’s part is a major challenge for anyone, and I doubt it’s been done better than here. It’s a strange role. She is Bobby’s mistress, but he passes her around, and she’s a good time girl, keen on Poles, Czechs and Americans, and up for it with anyone. She and Bobby are very fond of each other. I just don’t think Rattigan gets any credibility. If she’s a good time girl attracted to servicemen of any flag, whatever was she doing with Elizabeth’s sclerotic old duke of a dad? It’s a step too far, or rather a generation too far back. She might describe herself as a “trollop” who does it for the fun, not for the money … but you look at the old duke and think … no, she’d really have to be paid. Given that he’s the future father-in-law, Bobby is remarkably blithe about it. The cheerful tart, happy in her work, is a strong 40s / 50s cliché, and one can envisage a future for this Mabel Crum (a patronisingly demeaning name if ever there was one) serving tea and crumpets to judges and generals in Soho after a good whipping.
Elizabeth has little to work with. “A nice girl.” Romantic, pissed on two sips of whisky so she falls into Mulvaney’s arms. It’s a pity with two such excellent female stars that their one scene together is short and uneventful. This is no Cecily / Gwendolyn dialogue!
Colbert (Nicholas Bishop), Earl of Harpenden (Rob Heaps), Lieutenant Mulvaney (Rupert Young)
OK, all the parts are cliches, but the male cliches are very funny indeed, and interact superbly with vigorous spot-timed direction. The women just don’t have the lines on the page. You try addressing people as Ducky as Mabel has to. I wonder if Rattigan’s model for working class female dialogue was music hall star Marie Lloyd.
Favourite interchange though:
… he’s your father to be.
Bobby: To be … or rather not to be.
Mabel: Aah! You’d make a lovely Hamlet.
Rattigan had a socio-political agenda about changing times. Everyone’s in uniform, but the Earl of Harpenden is merely an ordinary seaman who keeps failing officer interviews, not being able to divide half a crown into tuppence ha’pennys. We might think awfully nice, but dim, but when the general tries to fiddle the total of his winnings on the craps game, Bobby spots it immediately, giving us a clue that the dimness is an upper class self-deprecating act.
Lady Elizabeth is a lowly WRAF corporal, but as the butler points out, his own brother has become a Lieutenant-Commodore. The butler also turns out to be an American citizen to keep mixing it up.
The socialist French lieutenant says the Earl’s class is doomed after the war, and Bobby agrees he’ll probably swing from a lamppost.
The fierce old duke describes the Lord of the Admiralty as a “socialist wallah.” But here they are, all in their varied uniforms … Britain gets sailor, Women’s RAF corporal, army senior officer, plus we have American air force bombardier and Free French officer … after all the joshing and arguing, we’re all ALLIES and ALL IN THIS TOGETHER and CLASS DOESN’T MATTER.
OK, it all proved to be untrue, but it was 1943. Beat the drum with the message.
You won’t see a sharper, more economical farce. Any faults are the original text.I thought it a much better play than Flare Path, written a year earlier. I’d guess from the elaborate set, smaller than the width of the Bath stage, that this was designed to tour.
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CHRISTOPHER LUSCOMBE LINKS:
- Love’s Labour’s Lost– RSC 2014
- Love’s Labour’s Won RSC 2014
- Nell Gwynn, by Jessica Swale, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2015
- Travels With My Aunt, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 2016
TERENCE RATTIGAN PLAYS ON THIS BLOG:
- All On Her Own by Terence Rattigan, Kenneth Branagh Company 2015
- Flare Path, by Terence Rattigan, 2015 Tour, at Salisbury Playhouse
- Harlequinade by Terence Rattigan, Kenneth Branagh Company 2015
- Ross by Terence Rattigan, Chichester Festival Theatre 2016
- Separate Tables by Terence Rattigan, Salisbury Playhouse
- The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan (FILM VERSION)
- French Without Tears by Terence Rattigan, ETT, Poole Lighthouse
JONATHAN DRYDEN TAYLOR
Travels With My Aunt, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 2016