Monday, 18 June 2012
South Downs/The Browning Version at The Harold Pinter Theatre
The double bill of David Hare’s new play South Downs and Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version currently playing at The Harold Pinter Theatre is a joy. There isn’t a weak link in either play and I was entranced with both.
David Hare was commissioned to write the opening play as a companion piece to The
Browning Version to commemorate the 100th birthday of Rattigan’s birth. Both plays are set in public schools and both are centred around an act of kindness. South Downs is obviously centred around Hare’s old school, Lancing, and evokes the atmosphere so brilliantly that anyone who attended such a school in the 60’s will be immediately transported back to their days there. Nearly everyone will remember a teacher like the wonderfully sarky, Basil Spear, beautifully brought to life by Andrew Woodall.
The kindness in this play is from the perspective of a pupil, superbly played by newcomer Alex Lawther who effortlessly manages to convey the social awkwardness of a teenage schoolboy who is poorer than his peers and is having great difficulty in fitting in. It is only when he meets Anna Chancellor’s glamorous actress and mother of the prefect he hero worships, an excellent Jonathan Bailey, that he realises there is someone who understands his suffering. David Hare is a master of dialogue and this dryly, witty play, excellently directed by Jeremy Herrin, is a gem.
Angus Jackson directs The Browning Version with aplomb and, despite not being a particular fan of Rattigan, Nicholas Farrell as the about to be retired Andrew Crocker-Harris moved me to tears. When his wife, brilliantly brought to life by Anna Chancellor twists her ever present knife to burst his bubble over the act of kindness bestowed on him by a pupil (an excellent Liam Morton) the gasp from the audience assures us that the continually put upon Classic's teacher has our entire sympathy. Farrell manages to portray the meticulous man’s vulnerability, stoicism and bravery not only with the perfect delivery of what he has to say but in his entire demeanour when silent. The play in the hand of this wonderful cast shows us so much about the human condition. A production not to be missed.