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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.



A week last Thursday night….I went to see  As You Like It at Keswick’s Theatre By The Lake. It’s the first Shakespeare play I ever saw on stage, at Birmingham Rep, with, seemingly, half the cast of Crossroads in the company. Good old Burton Boys Grammar School (I’m being ironic, you should know), had gone to pains to teach us that when we call a Shakespeare play ‘comic’, we don’t mean it’s funny. Birmingham Rep blew that piece of disinformation right out of the water, and won me over to Shakespeare despite everything that the Education system threw at him.

It must be twenty years since I’d seen the play, and last night I was amazed at how much of it – almost every line – came back to me, though I couldn’t have written down more than a few of them without that prompting. It’s remained my favourite play, though I can see it’s not the slickest (and yes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream pushes a hard second).

The TBTL production was as good as I had come to expect, and celebrated the essential romanticism of the play. Jessica Hayles made a fabulous Rosalind – all Rosalinds should be fabulous. I can remember Eileen Atkins in her Ganymede jeans, and still have the theatre programme somewhere! But Layo-Christina Akinlude as Celia/Aliena gave a master-class in how to play the part that is on stage a lot of the time, but has few lines and very little action. With nods, head-shakes, grins, eye-rolls and other micro-movements she mirrored, re-inforced and nudged our responses to what the other characters were saying and doing. It’s a fine line sort of part to walk between too much and not enough, and she was absolutely spot on.

One slight change to Shakespeare’s script puzzled me. An exchange of words, very near to the end, one that you wouldn’t notice was missing unless you were expecting to hear it, had been excised; like a sprig of bitter herb left out of a gourmet dish.

But Bravo! Theatre ByThe Lake, cast and crew.

If you live more than driving time away from Keswick, England, this maybe not for you! But following the floods that recently devastated the North of England (and elsewhere), a group of local writers from North Cumbria are getting together to present a literary evening in the Theatre By The Lake’s Studio Theatre, at Keswick, England, (that’s the UK England for those in doubt).

BHDandMe will be there, well, BHD will be, me, I’ll be with him in spirit! Tuesday 8th March, beginning at 6.45pm. Perhaps you’ve seen the massive online and off advertising campaign, but just in case you haven’t, why not check those details again – The Studio, Theatre By The Lake, Keswick, England, UK, Tuesday 8th March, 6.45pm – and don’t be late, we’ve only only the place for an hour, that’s 6 minutes each for those of you interested in statistics – and we need to raise squillions to help put back together the lives and businesses that these floods ripped apart.


It would be nice, if so many of you turned up, that they had cancel the show in the main theatre and move us in there instead…it would be nice, if they had to hire trucks to take away the money we raise….Hey, as Kowalski might say, whaddya got ta lose?mildredUnless it’s all a ghastly dream……

I’ve been watching the Muppets Christmas Carol, which I do around this time of year. It’s one of Mr Caine’s best movies, IMO! I like Gonzo as Dickens, and Rizzo makes an ‘ideal reader’ as Mr King might say.

Interesting how, like a very good stage version I’ve seen a couple of times at Theatre By The Lake in Keswick, those two orphans, Want and Ignorance, are left out…. which turns the story more towards the personal redemption of Scrooge, and away fro the wider socio-political focus of Dickens’ story. Maybe I should do an adaptation piece on that!

I’m reading Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Dickens (didn’t his brother have a spot of bother with Agatha Christie? – no, not Dickens’ brother!), and wondering what there is left for Claire Tomlin to say!

My other favourite Christmas story is The Tailor of Gloucester, whose little house in Cathedral Close I made a pilgrimage to earlier this year! There’s a good film version of that too…. but I can’t remember who by, (OK, by whom, then)because I only have it on video and nothing to play those on anymore!

May your Yule logs crackle and spit. A very Merry Christmas to you all… Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a keyboard with a proper M on it!