While The Sun Is Shining by Terence Rattigan at the Orange Tree Theater
This first Rattigan play had an interesting life. Set during WWII and created while that conflict was still raging, it has since found itself rather overshadowed by the author’s later and less comedic successes such as The big Blue and The brown version.
Agreeing that he should have reappeared at the Orange Tree on Kew Road since his first major play, First episode, was staged at the Q Theater, an adventurous theater, now long gone, just a mile and a half down the road. It is also appropriate that the orange tree resumes While the sun is shining in this other period of sudden death and social coercion. Not that the theater should be accused of opportunism, since the production had a previous life here, shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic.
It may be a young Rattigan, not yet familiar with the emotional traumas of a passionate but marriage-related Hester Collyer, or an exhausted classics professor Andrew Crocker-Harris, but his eye for traps. of marriage and of duty is already sharpened. Here we are, in Albany – not Albany, please note, but Plain Albany, in Piccadilly. Former residential roles include Byron, Rees-Mogg, Priestley, Gladstone, Heath and – hence the accuracy of the portrayal – Rattigan. Rather than calling it a building, its young leader, the Earl of Harpenden, prefers to think of the place as a collection of rooms; almost as if he was still a student at an old college, as his harmless outbursts of worthlessness might suggest.
The count, sexually ambivalent, and his creator having the same age, it is tempting to see the young aristo as a projection, floating although a little at sea in the currents of social promiscuity. On the brink of his wedding to his childhood sweetheart Lady Elizabeth Randall, he meets a handsome American bomber and offers him a bed – nothing more, as far as we know – for the night. But since it is a bachelor apartment, the bed is shared. He also befriends a young member of the Free French Army and also offers him accommodation.
Thanks to a clever sleight of hand, these two find themselves chasing Lady Elizabeth while her future husband seems to tie very loose points with a former, what, girlfriend, Mabel Crum. If it is difficult to be more specific on the extent of these encounters, it may be due to Rattigan’s appetite to take the mickey out of the English reserve.
Then there are the two supposedly adult characters, who turn out to be nothing of the sort: Horton, the Earl’s butler, whose low-key ways hide incontinent gossip, and his father, the Duke of Ayr and Stirling, in despair. to marry Elizabeth so that her new son-in-law can save him from his gambling debts.
All of this against the backdrop of an England with the blinds down, the sky on fire, and the thrill-seeking appetite of the present spurred by the threat of the lack of a future. At the risk of over-reading the harsh camaraderie between the Count, the Yankee and the French, these young men come to resemble a triple alliance against a common enemy, never named but still there. In this chaos, no one seems to know exactly what they are doing. Even the supposed father throws all his hopes and money on the horses’ hooves. Rattigan himself risks losing the plot at times, although he crosses the line still holding the reins.
Orange Tree director Paul Miller organizes the indiscipline well, with a seven-person cast that stays on the right side of the period parody. Rebecca Collingwood takes on Lady Elisabeth’s deceptive challenge, with Philip Labey resisting the urge to make this oddly complex Count too Wodehousian. Michael Lumsden’s high-class foolish Harrumping as his father the Duke. This production helps explain why the sun indeed shone on young Rattigan as he made chaos with the hay.
Review by Alan Franks
On the eve of his wedding, the young Earl of Harpenden – Bobby to his friends – offered his room to Joe, an American soldier he had met drunk the day before. When Bobby’s fiancÃ©e Lady Elizabeth arrives, Joe gestures, thinking she must be Bobby’s ex, the wonderful Mabel Crum. But a free French lieutenant also has eyes for herâ¦ And to complicate matters, Bobby’s future father-in-law also arrives. London in the Blitz, and identities merge: it’s time to make hay …
Cast: Rebecca Collingwood, Conor Glean, Sophie Khan Levy, John Hudson, Philip Labey, Michael Lumsden and Jordan MifsÃºd.
Orange Tree Theater listings
1, rue Clarence, Richmond, TW9 2SA
Ticket office: 020 8940 3633
November 20, 2021 – January 8, 2022