Jonathan Church closes this year`s rich Theatre Royal Bath summer season with an articulate and finely acted revival of Terence Rattigan`s rarely-performed last play, In Praise of Love, at the Ustinov Studio.
The playwright`s sensitive insight into English reticence is enhanced by the casting of two actors of real stature in Robert Lindsay and Tara Fitzgerald, as the couple whose marriage has been blighted by emotional starvation. Their presence underscores yet again the Ustinov`s remarkable success in attracting players of star calibre to its intimate space.
Fitzgerald is at the same time both frail and elegant as Estonian concentration camp survivor Lydia, who discovers she is terminally ill (Rattigan himself had leukaemia when he wrote the play). She is determined to hide the news from her irascible literary critic husband Sebastian, given a redeeming depth of feeling by Lindsay amid his malice towards both his wife and his fledging TV writer son Joey (played by Christopher Bonwell)..
It needs the arrival of American best-selling author Mark (Julian Wadham), family friend and possibly Lydia`s lover, to spark the sudden jolt of bottled up feelings and secret discoveries into an explosion of family truths at their most searing.
Church`s stylish direction, set against the backdrop of designer Tim Hatley`s bookshelf-lined 1970s set, gathers pace once the revelations begin. So, too, does Rattigan`s dialogue, which is not without its humour and has important things to say also about mortality.