The Art of Concealment

Terence Rattigan was one of the most acclaimed playwrights and screenwriters of his generation. His fall from critical favour marked a turning point in modern British theatre. He wore a carefully constructed mask of respectable, suave gentility in order to conceal his true nature, but who was the man behind the mask? Who was the real Terence Rattigan? A new play by Giles Cole.

Directed by Knight Mantel

***** Telegraph

You could say that I owed it all to my mother,” opines Sir Terence Rattigan in The Art of Concealment. What a great book there is to be written about the mothers of the nation’s most successful homosexual men.

A picture in mink and blue eye-shadow, Judy Buxton certainly makes the most of the domineering Vera Rattigan in Giles Coles’s stylish new play about the writer’s life – and doubtless goes some way, too, towards confirming a number of Freud’s hypotheses. Saddled with a philandering and largely ineffectual husband – Graham Pountney on wonderfully arch form – the grand dame takes it upon herself to guide her precociously talented son through life, but cannot, alas, come to terms with a local busybody’s suggestion that he might not be a “ladies’ man”.

“A mother must do what she can,” Mrs Rattigan says, as she urges her boy to consider taking Margaret Leighton, the actress, as his wife.
Buxton has to portray, too, Aunt Edna – the prissy figure that Rattigan had in his mind’s eye as his target audience – and it is a clever conceit, for the playwright’s matriarchal fixations were as big a censor for him as the Lord Chamberlain.

If anyone should, for instance, be blamed for the tortuous detour that Rattigan took around the issue of homosexuality in the shape of the libidinous Major Pollock in Separate Tables – in which Leighton starred when it opened in the capital – it should undoubtedly be Aunt Edna and the discomfort she felt at “unnatural desires”.

This is as perceptive an account of Rattigan’s life as has ever been penned, and it features superb performances from Alistair Findlay as Sir Terence in his dotage and Dominic Tighe as him in his gilded youth. There is a peculiar poignancy to the scenes in which Findlay, a louche figure on a stick in a slightly worn dinner jacket, considers his own Dorian Gray in Tighe: the play is as much about forfeiting youth and beauty as acclaim.

Directed with sensitivity by Knight Mantell, it boasts, too, an affecting turn from Charlie Hollway as Rattigan’s insouciant lover Michael Franklin.

There is a good line towards the end when one of Rattigan’s friends, seeing him depressed, says that he has succumbed to “a touch of the Osbornes”. Certainly John Osborne’s kitchen-sink dramas did for Rattigan – but it occurred to me, as I watched a revival of the old master’s final play Cause Célèbre at the Old Vic last year, that his work is standing the test of time a lot better than Osborne’s.
It is notable, too, as the grittiest and most true-to-life of Rattigan’s works, but then he wrote it a few years after Vera had died.


Jermyn Street Theatre


Dominic Tighe
Alastair Findlay
Charlie Hollway
Judy Buxton
Daniel Bayle
Graham Poutney
Christopher Morgan
Benedict Salter