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Well, here it is, officially… the short play, Telling by Me and Marilyn Messenger was one of 3 winning plays and will be performed at the Theatre By The Lake, Keswick, on October 20th.  Did you spot the link? It’s there, and here, if you see what I mean….Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Ah! A beer in Vetters Bar in Heidelberg, just off the Haupt Strasse at the Cathedral end. Bliss.

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A little while ago I went to see Theatre By The Lake’s production of the Terrance Rattigan play, After The Dance. Responses, the programme told me, to the first run of this were ‘euphoric’.

It’s an interesting word to use. The play tells (or should I, of all people, say shows?) the decline of a group post World War One generation of wealthy people – living on ‘private incomes’ into alcoholism and despair. It makes a nice comparison with that old favourite of mine, The Shooting Party, Isobel Colegate’s retrospective analysis of a similar, but somewhat more upmarket, group from the eve of the same conflict. Rattigan’s bunch are living, in 1938, in the shadow, not of the approaching war, but of their own immediate post-war past, of the gay (as opposed to GAY) world of the nineteen twenties, when they partied and drank late into the night and early in the morning. Fifteen years on and the now pushing middle aged crowd are not flagging, but they are beginning to fray at the edge.

What they fear most is to be seen as ‘boring’, though as the play develops – with a dialogue that was thought provoking, but neither witty nor snappy – we see that it is not actually to ‘be’ boring that frightens them. They keep alive their own myth of the eternal party, the light, skimming across the surface of life, not being drawn into anything serious – like work, or politics, or even love itself.

There are four main characters: David, on the verge of cirrhosis (I spelled that first time! Amazing!) of the liver, who goes on the wagon to please his soon-to-become lover – who turns out not to be a major character, though she fools us for a while – Joan, his long suffering wife, nursing the secret that she actually loves him (which would be too boring to bear if it came out, she thinks), Peter, David’s amanuensis, a drippy Oxford grad, and that lover’s present boyfriend. He gets dumped and does a George Orwell (Down and Out in London, you know). Then there is John, a parasite on David’s wealth who earns – a much  misused word – his keep by playing Jaques to David’s ‘Duke’. An unpleasant character, cynical, mercenary and ascerbic, we’ll come to him later.

When we left the theatre after the show – I couldn’t bring myself to accept the invitation to join in a question and answer with the cheery looking cast. I was too down cast. It reminded me of coming out of Carlisle’s old cinema some forty years ago, having watched   The Elephant Man: that sepulchral quiet of an audience too stunned to chatter.

Did you enjoy it? My wife kept asking, and no, I thought, I didn’t. The phrase that sprang to mind was ‘slit-your-throat’, and I made a note to that effect in my notebook. ‘Terrance Rattigan’s slit-your-throat play’. But I had been engrossed. I had been entertained (which I take to mean ‘held between other things’, like what went before and what came after).

The costumes were fabulous, the set, perfect, the actors, apart from one, absolutely believable. The story, absolutely believable too. But what sort of moron, I wondered, is euphoric after a story like that? The sort that frequented the Roman Amphitheatres?

But as the days wore on, I turned the play over and over in my mind – which, like a slow Rubik Cube, is what they’re for – and found the seam of silver, or even solid gold, that I was looking for. That’s in the character John, the outsider, the man with the jaundiced eye and the sharp retort – the man, it might be said, who looks on and understands – the man, perhaps, most like a writer.