Review – After The Dance, National Theatre

After the Dance
Was there a time when plays by Rattigan didn’t feel tired and creaky? Surely even at the time of their premiere everybody turned to the tweed tail-coated person next to them and said “Gosh, feels a little old fashioned, doesn’t it old chap?”

After the Dance follows a group of London socialites partying away the interwar years as the world sinks towards catastrophe, all in a Mayfair flat which looks curiously like it might have been borrowed from The White Guard. David (Benedict Cumberbatch) is notionally researching and writing a book on an obscure part of Italian history, but spends most of his time drinking himself to death and being pursued by Helen (Faye Castelow), the fiancé of his secretary Peter (John Heffernan). All of this goes on under the knowing eye of David’s wife Joan (Nancy Carroll, very good as always) and the booze addled eye of John (Adrian Scarborough, playing a role he is much too thin for).

The central conflict here is between David’s older generation forced into hedonism and indolence by the war even if they weren’t in it, and Peter’s generation: earnest, hard working and moralistic.

All of this trundles along pleasantly enough, but it does feel terribly dated and never really takes flight: there’s not all that much to be really excited with the plot or the dialogue.

That’s not to say there’s not a lot to like in this production. The cast are uninformally excellent, although judging by the curtain call there seem to have been about thirty people in a play written for eight. Nancy Carroll and Adrian Scarborough stand out, but the real pleasure here is watching Benedict Cumberbatch spread his wings and take on a major leading role – his performance is superb.

This show isn’t a revelation: it doesn’t reinvent Rattigan or seek to make his work relevant today, but it is a nicely done portrait of a time and there’s nothing to fault in Thea Sharrock’s production.