1931-1940

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Plays

After the Dance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance – an attack on the hedonistic lifestyle of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 30s – signalled a more serious direction in his writing after the relative frivolity of the hugely successful French Without Tears. It was first produced at the St James’s Theatre, London, on 21 June l939.

The play's action takes place in the drawing-room of the Scott-Fowlers’ flat in Mayfair, a fashionable part of London. David Scott-Fowler is a successful writer who revels in his hard-drinking and hard-partying lifestyle. He and his wife Joan are still clinging to their Twenties heydays, and are joined in their plush flat by parasitic lodger, John. However, not everyone is convinced by their constant jollities. David’s cousin Peter and his earnest wife Helen remain unimpressed by their almost wilful evasion of their responsibilities. Helen’s attempt to reform David sparks a relationship between the two that turns to love. As a result, Joan, unable to wrestle her husband back, throws herself off the balcony during one of their parties. In the final act, John persuades David, now a broken man, that his relationship with Helen will not survive the heartbreak of losing Joan. But David has no intention of learning from past mistakes and would rather drink himself to death than face the reality of his home life and the looming threat of global war

The premiere production was directed by Michael Macowan, with Martin Walker as John Reid, Hubert Gregg as Peter Scott-Fowler, Gordon Court as Williams, Catherine Lacey as Joan Scott-Fowler, Anne Firth as Helen Banner, Robert Kempson as Dr George Banner, Viola Lyel as Julia Browne, Leonard Coppins as Cyril Carter, Robert Harris as David Scott-Fowler, Millicent Wolf as Moya Lexington, Osmund Willson as Lawrence Walters, Henry Caine as Arthur Power and Lois Heatherley as Miss Potter.

The production opened in June 1939 to euphoric reviews, but only a month later the European crisis was darkening the national mood and audiences began to dwindle. The play was pulled in August after only sixty performances.

The play subsequently sank into obscurity until a BBC TV revival in 1994. It was revived by the Oxford Stage Company at Salisbury Playhouse in October 2002, and subsequently at the National Theatre, London, in June 2010 in a production directed by Thea Sharrock with a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Nancy Carroll and Adrian Scarborough.

The Astonished Heart

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Astonished Heart is the story of a happily married psychiatrist who gradually sinks under the emotional pressure of falling passionately in love with his wife’s friend Leonora. Christian is tortured by jealousy and by his acute professional awareness of his obsession, gradually losing his control but not his fascinating articulacy.

The Astonished Heart is a short play from the Tonight at 8.30 cycle, conceived by Coward as an antidote to the boredom of a long run of the same script. It is a sequence of ten plays to be performed by the same cast in sets of three, alternating matinées and evenings, ranging from farce to melodrama to romantic comedy.

After touring, Tonight at 8.30 was produced at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1936.

audio Awake and Sing!

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Clifford Odets’ masterpiece, starring Mark Ruffalo, Richard Kind and Ben Gazzara, brings to life the struggles of a working-class family aspiring to the promise of the American Dream. Even as they endure the country’s worst economic nightmare, three generations of an immigrant family are crowded into a Bronx tenement, fiercely determined to stay afloat, no matter what the cost.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Emily Bergl as Hennie Berger Ben Gazzara as Jacob Jonathan Hadary as Myron Berger Jane Kaczmarek as Bessie Berger Richard Kind as Uncle Morty Peter Kybart as Schlosser Mark Ruffalo as Moe Axelrod Raphael Sbarge as Sam Feinschreiber Peter Smith as Ralph Berger Directed by Bartlett Sher. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Emily Bergl, Ben Gazzara, Jonathan Hadary, Jane Kaczmarek, Richard Kind, Peter Kybart, Mark Ruffalo, Raphael Sbarge, Peter Smith

Bracken Moor

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Alexi Kaye Campbell's Bracken Moor is a boldly theatrical tale of two families haunted by grief, set against the economic troubles of the 1930s. It was first performed at the Tricycle Theatre, London, on 6 June 2013 in a co-production between the Tricycle and Shared Experience.

The play's action takes place in the Yorkshire house of Harold Pritchard, a ruthlessly pragmatic mine owner, in the winter of 1937. Harold and his wife Elizabeth are playing host to their old London friends, Geoffrey and Vanessa Avery, whom they haven't seen for ten years. The reason for the long gap is that Elizabeth withdrew from life after the death of her 12-year-old son, Edgar, who fell down a disused mine shaft. All the old memories come to the surface when the Averys' 22-year-old son, Terence, appears to be possessed by the spirit of the dead boy, with whom he enjoyed an intense relationship.

The Tricycle Theatre premiere was directed by Polly Teale, artistic director of Shared Experience, with a cast including Daniel Flynn as Harold Pritchard, Helen Schlesinger as Elizabeth Pritchard, Joseph Timms as Terence, Simon Shepherd as Geoffrey Avery and Sarah Woodward as Vanessa Avery.

Cause Célèbre

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Cause Célèbre is a drama based on the real-life story of Alma Rattenbury, who in 1935 went on trial with her eighteen-year-old lover for the murder of her husband. Rattigan originally wrote the play for radio, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27 October 1975. He later adapted it for the stage, and this version was first performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 4 July 1977. It proved to be his final play, and was still playing in the West End at the time of his death on 30 November 1977.

The action of the play takes place in Bournemouth and London in 1934 and 1935. It begins with Alma Rattenbury being charged in court with the murder of her husband, the architect Francis Rattenbury. Francis was in his fifties when he married Alma, a young gifted pianist in her twenties. Their relationship quickly cooled, leaving the door open for Alma to embark on a passionate affair with George, one of the Rattenbury’s employees. When Francis is found dead, the finger is immediately pointed at Alma and the play follows her arrest and the ensuing trial. Rattigan adds an extra dimension by pitting Alma against a female juror, Edith Davenport, whose own life offers a counterpoint to Alma's.

The premiere of the stage version at Her Majesty’s Theatre was directed by Robin Midgley and designed by Adrian Vaux, with Glynis Johns as Alma Rattenbury and Helen Lindsay as Edith Davenport. It received a clutch of positive reviews. Many critics commented on Rattigan’s failing health and exhibited a generosity of spirit towards his writing legacy, his reputation having suffered since the late 1950s.

The play received a major revival as part of the Rattigan Centenary celebrations at The Old Vic, London, from 17 March 2011 in a production directed by Thea Sharrock with Anne-Marie Duff as Alma and Niamh Cusack as Edith.

The play's relationship with the real-life case that inspired it is explored in detail by Dan Rebellato in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition of the play (2011). Rebellato also examines the textual differences between the radio and stage versions of the play. His conclusion is that Cause Célèbre is 'a defiant defence of sexual desire, emotional honesty, and a ferocious attack on the moral pieties of middle-class, middle-brow Middle England'.

Cavalcade

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘It is a magnificent play in which the note of national pride pervading every scene and every sentence must make each one of us face the future with courage and high hopes’ The Daily Mail, 1931. Such was the reception for Coward’s spectacular pageant when it first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Telling the story of a great swathe of history, from the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the coming of the Jazz Age, Coward’s great coup de théâtre was to channel these historical moments through the prism of the lives of one Mayfair family.

Although there have been some revivals, no subsequent production of Cavalcade has ever matched the premiere for its scale. As Sheridan Morley writes in his introduction, ‘Cavalcade was a prodigious feat of sheer stage-management . . . a grandiose stage epic in three acts and twenty-two scenes that was to cost an almost unprecedented thirty-thousand pre-war pounds and to keep a cast and backstage crew of three hundred people employed at Drury Lane for more than a year, playing to a total box office take of well over three hundred thousand pounds. Cavalcade was the kind of show of which a latterday Cameron Mackintosh or Andfrew Lloyd Webber would be proud.’

Charles B. Cochran's 1931 Revue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A sketch for a revue must be quick, sharp, funny (or sentimental) and to the point, with a good, really good black-out line. Whether the performers are naked or wearing crinolines is quite beside the point; the same rule applies'.

Thus did Noël Coward describe the ingredients for a successful revue sketch; in the 1920s and 1930s he mastered and defined the art of the revue – short and often topical or satirical sketches, many of which were a lead-in to a song. He started producing sketches for some of the most famous revues of the period.

Charles B. Cochran's Revue was first presented by Charles B. Cochran at the London Pavilion, on 19 March 1931. It ran for just 27 performances. Although advertised as having 'Music by Noël Coward and others', it in fact had only five Coward numbers and only one of them could be considered as a semi-sketch.

audio The Code of the Woosters

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In the best known of the Bertie and Jeeves series, Bertie's aunt pressures him to steal a silver creamer, and he nearly gets lynched, arrested and engaged by mistake. As always, Jeeves is on hand with a last-minute brainstorm to set everything straight.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Rosalind Ayres, Patrice Egleston, Martin Jarvis, Kelly Nespor, Kenneth J. Northcott, Henry M. Odum, Mark Richard, Nicolas Sandys and Thomas M. Shea.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Patrice Egleston, Martin Jarvis, Kelly Nespor, Kenneth J. Northcott, Henry M. Odum, Mark Richard, Nicolas Sandys, Thomas M Shea

Conversation Piece

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in the decades after the French Revolution, Conversation Piece tells the story of Paul, Duc de Chaucigny-Varennes, who has come to Brighton to escape the terrors in France. In his company is Melanie, a dance hall singer whom Paul passes off as his ward and the offspring of his murdered friend. He hopes to marry her off to a member of Brightonian high society; she, however, has other plans and, with the help of her suitor Edward, tries to outmanoeuvre Lady Julia Charteris, in the hope of getting her heart’s desires.

Writing about the original production, the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It was a big occasion before ever the curtain rose . . . It became a great one as soon as Yvonne Printemps appeared . . . Mr Coward shares her triumph. Or, rather, since he is author, composer, producer and chief male actor in this brilliant show, he enjoys a separate triumph all to himself.'

Conversation Piece, a musical comedy, was first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1934.

Dansen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dansen is a pig farmer and a respectable member of the community. His fellow members of the commerce class in the town often meet, to play cards, sign contracts and sort out disagreements; it is a wholly satisfying way of life.

But this cosy arrangement is upset with the arrival of a stranger, a man who is intent on breaking contracts and instigating the most hostile of takeovers with the point of a pistol. He forces Dansen into collaboration: against his former colleagues, his better judgement and his own interests.

Written in early 1939, Dansen is a one-act agitprop piece which highlights the dangers of appeasement in the face of aggressive behaviour from a self-appointed enemy.