Less Than Kind

Terence Rattigan

Jermyn Street Theatre

(2011)

Review by Philip Fisher

2011 promises to be a veritable Rattigan-fest as the playwright's centenary is celebrated with revivals of many of his best-known works. However, to start off, Jermyn Street Theatre welcomes Less Than Kind, an unperformed drama with political and romantic underpinnings that was written in 1944.

The play is capably directed by Adrian Brown, a veteran who proudly proclaims that he once directed Margaret Rutherford opposite Kenneth Williams for the BBC. That must have been fun for all concerned.

Less Than Kind starts off as a rather predictable drawing-room comedy but, after the interval, becomes something far finer, as Rattigan begins to explore the politics of the period at the same time as looking rather more seriously at the relationships that he has created.

The initial set-up is something that one might more usually expect to see in a farce. Having been deserted by his wife, Michael Simkins as Sir John Fletcher, the Minister for Tanks in a Conservative government, is now combining his political career and an affair with Olivia Brown, played by Sara Crowe.

This blonde widow of a certain age lives up to the hair colour, living her life as a careerist arranger of social events from their luxurious flat, imaginatively designed by Suzi Lombardelli.

The catalyst for a review of their lives comes with the return from Canada of Mrs Brown's son Michael, given a well-balanced depiction by David Osmond. The little lad who disappeared at the start of the war has become a politically opinionated 17-year-old brat.

Despite the desperate pleadings of the woman who is stuck in the middle, the two men develop an immediate aversion to each other, which is based on far more than merely the heavily-emphasised Hamlet syndrome jealousy over her attentions.

Sir John is a reactionary of the old school, while young Michael has been superbly educated in radical politics and is only too pleased to show off his expertise. This eventually leads to a seemingly irreparable breach between man and not quite wife, at which point we go into the interval.

To add to the fun, not only does Michael discover and utilise the talents of Sir John's separated wife Diana, accurately described as "an unparalleled hussy", he also hopelessly falls for Carolina Head's character. She does not so much return as toy with his affections, leading to some fascinating, very funny scenes after the interval as the main quartet rearranges alliances with startling regularity.

While it may not be Rattigan's finest work, Less Than Kind is intriguing, as much for the playwright's rehearsals of the conflicting political opinions that were going around towards the end of war as his plotting. While his preferences might lean more towards the traditional conservatism that was beginning to show its age than the left-wing politics of Harold Laski, which veer towards communism but accurately predict the collapse of the British class system after the war finally ended.

The leading quartet of actors all play their parts to ensure that there is a good quantity of comedy to temper the political argy-bargy in what turns out after the interval to be a very pleasant entertainment.