Fi­nal play is one to re­mem­ber

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - News -

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. the­­nov.

Jackie Chap­pell

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