Final play is one to remember
In Praise of Love
Ustinov Studio, Bath
SUCH is the lure of seeing two of the country’s finest actors perform in the intimate setting of Bath’s Ustinov Studio that the nine matinee performances sold out even before the production opened.
Robert Lindsay and Tara Fitzgerald star in Terence Rattigan’s work – the final play in the Theatre Royal’s summer season and the Ustinov directorial debut of the season’s artistic director, Jonathan Church. And it is fabulous, as though the theatre has been saving the best until last.
Lindsay and Fitzgerald are electrifying as husband and wife Lydia and Sebastian in this play about love, about concealed truths within a marriage and about British reticence.
Lydia, an Estonian refugee whom Sebastian married to give her a passport 28 years earlier, is dying. She has just heard that her condition is terminal but keeps this fact from him and instead confides in their mutual friend, Mark, the events unfolding over the course of two nights.
Sebastian, once a promising novelist but now a literary critic, is cantankerous, self-centred and selfish, something that Lydia tolerates with amusement. He intended to divorce her years ago but has somehow not got around to it.
Throughout this play, which is deeply moving and a riveting story, the dynamic is taut, the dialogue fizzes with wit and it is wickedly funny.
The lead performances of Lindsay and Fitzgerald – by turn amusing, excruciating, captivating – are never less than enthralling. Lydia drunk, flirtatious, trying to organise what will be after she is gone, contrasts absolutely with the sardonic Sebastian’s own suppressed emotions.
Julian Wadham as Mark – who for years has been in love with Lydia – is quietly superb as the go-between and arbiter of truth.
And there’s a good turn from Christopher Bonwell as the son Joey, eager young playwright and a Liberal Party campaigner who is despised by his dyed-in-the-wool Marxist father.
Sebastian’s thoughtless treatment of his son brings things to a head and he confesses his own secret to Mark.
Rattigan’s work, written in the mid-1970s, is beautifully crafted. It was the his final play – “one last play by which he might be remembered” – partly autobiographical and written when he knew he was dying.
This new production, with a magnificent set design by Tim Hatley, is certainly one to remember.
In Praise of Love runs at the Ustinov until November 3. Tickets on 01225 448844 or at www. theatreroyal.org.uk/ustinov.