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Cause Célèbre

by on 8 March 2020

Passions Reflected

Cause Célèbre

by Terence Rattigan

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 13th March

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Set in the 1930s, Cause Célèbre was based on the true case of Alma Rattenbury and George Wood. When Alma Rattenbury’s marriage to the elderly Francis reaches the sleeping on separate floors of the house stage, she hires 17 year old George as chauffeur and general help. He becomes her lover. However, on realising that Alma and Francis’ marriage is not in fact entirely dead, George finds himself unable to cope and takes extreme action. Horrified, Alma rises to the occasion, assumes personal responsibility and is tried alongside George for her husband’s murder.

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Rattigan, however, has more to bring to his audience’s attention than a shocking trial. He is fabulously good at women, specifically women of a certain age about whom he writes with great sensitivity. Hester Collyer in The Deep Blue Sea (1944) and Olivia Brown in Love in Idleness (1952) are witty, intelligent and firing on all cylinders, their lives restricted only by the social mores of the time, and their men – both lovers and sons. Alma Rattenbury is another of these women, far more than the wicked corruptor of boys the tabloids would have her be. Rattigan’s master stroke in Cause Célèbre, though, was to include the character of Edith Davenport and TTC’s master stroke (presumably in the person of director Fiona Smith) was to cast Jane Marcus as Mrs Davenport.

CausC210295Superficially Edith Davenport is the antithesis of Alma Rattenbury. Alma takes sexual freedom for granted. Edith is someone for whom ‘that side of things’ has never given her any pleasure, but the two women are in fact close in character and in their sense of what is right. Both are also doomed to misery, one for following her passionate soul, the other for not knowing hers existed. Jane Marcus’ performance as Edith Davenport was both skilful and endearing. This potentially wounded and embittered woman was seen as a sympathetic, dignified character whose emotional life had been cruelly unfulfilled. When the judge refuses her pleas to be excused jury service as she knows she is prejudiced against Mrs Rattenbury, Edith grits her teeth and goes on to do her duty with great integrity.

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Similarly Alma Rattenbury as played by Mia Skytte-Jensen, loving and seeking male attention of any sort, was an honourable woman, a victim of the times rather than any one individual.

The level of performance in this production was consistently high. Jake O’Hare as George Wood had little to work with but nonetheless produced a convincingly confused and unpredictable teenage boy far out of his depth. Jacob Taylor managed to convey the exact boy-to-man point at which Edith’s son Tony found himself with the mix of excitement and panic that entailed.

Particularly enjoyable were the exchanges between Edith and her sister Stella (Dionne King) which were both brisk and authentic. Everyone in fact shone in this production. Daniel Wain clearly enjoyed himself playing the eccentric, slipper-wearing KC, O’Connor acting for Mrs Rattenbury and if Sue Reoch as Montagu isn’t already in the legal profession, she probably should be. Additionally, the gentle ‘thawing’ of Heather Mathew as warden Joan Webster was endearing and Genevieve Trickett as the put-upon companion Irene was played as a character with more to her than was on display. Jack Dwyer produced a particularly mature performance as Alma’s young son Christopher.

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Patrick Troughton’s wood-panelled set brought a ‘closed in’ atmosphere to the proceedings (beautiful staircase), though any action taking place stage left seemed a little cramped. Mike Elgy’s lighting was perfectly judged, the darkening and spotlighting at certain points added a sense of things shutting down. There seemed to be some small issues with sound on opening night, Chris Morris as the floundering policeman was not always audible when he was positioned at the top of the set but these, I imagine were first night issues.

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Zoe Harvey-Lee’s costumes were exemplary, including hats, all hats male and female were worn at the correct angle for the period. (We do love a detail!)

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In 1968, 33 years after the trial of Alma Rattenbury, Paul Simon wrote a song about a certain Mrs Robinson. Fifty years on and despite huge social progress, it is probably still the case that a middle aged woman with a younger man will attract more general opprobrium than the other way around.

“Laugh about it, shout about it,
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.”

This is a very good production, TTC and Terence Rattigan are a very good mix. Highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
March 2020

Photography by Cath Messum

2 Comments
  1. ilona1505 permalink

    How can I access The Wolves review from last week?

    Best Ilona

    >

    • Hello Ilona, The literary agent put an embargo on public reviews, I am sorry to say. However, for personal referencing the password is PTCWolves, which should enable you to access the review. Many thanks for your interest. Keith Wait, Editor

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