The Browning Version, Terence Rattigan’s paean to thwarted ambition and stultified passion, is beautifully presented in this new double bill. Rattigan’s familiar story of a classics master facing the end of his teaching life with a mixture of resignation and then a final defiant hurrah is beautifully and sensitively evoked by director Angus Jackson.
Anna Chancellor (Millie Crocker-Harris) and Nicholas Farrell (Andrew Crocker-Harris) in The Browning Version at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Nicholas Farrell, while displaying a rather affected vocal delivery, brings to life all the character’s deep feelings, the emotions punching away at his insides. As his bitter, estranged wife, Anna Chancellor beautifully conjures up a range of callous indifference, her spirit hardened by her fight against a spouse lacking the masculine values she desires as much as by her narcissism. Tom Scutt’s staging precisely evokes a master’s lodgings, pierced by dust-infused shafts of light.
What is perhaps most intriguing about the evening, however, is David Hare’s new companion piece to the play, written last year to mark the centenary of Rattigan’s birth. It creates a fascinating conversation, set as it is in a school Hare remembered well (his Lancing of the early 1960s to Rattigan’s remembered Harrow of the 1940s and once more beautifully evoked by Scutt).
Like Rattigan’s play, Hare’s drama hinges on an act of kindness, this time the unexpected care shown to an awkward young boy by the mother of one of the prefects. Hare creates lots of laughs in a way the traditional play which accompanies The Browning Version (Harlequinade) often fails to - exploiting to the full the hilariousness of the public school system. But it is a fitting accompaniment to the Rattigan, evoking as it does the pain of the outsider, even if the difficulties here are of a boy faced with the worries about growing up rather than the regrets of a life nearing its end.