Review by Peter McGarry

Peter McGarry is an experienced, independent professional theatre critic who has agreed to review Talisman Theatre productions.
Peter is free to express his opinions for good or ill. The Talisman Theatre has no control whatsoever over the content of these reviews and will not comment publicly on what he writes.

Separate Tables (2016):
It's a mark of sheer brilliance that Terence Rattigan's work not only stands up today but in its own time broke through barriers that would have been seen in the 1950s as socially unacceptable.

The point is made even clearer by this production commendably using the original stage script rather than the somewhat sanitised version applied to an acclaimed Hollywood-style film.

Here the period is effectively brought to life by a superb John Ellam set, which manages to convey the size and chilly aloofness of a private hotel dining-room in Bournemouth as well as its more conventional and impersonal lounge. Then there is a fine ensemble company effort shaped and styled by director Vicky Whitehill to deliver what are in effect two plays unfolding within the same environment.

Both were written for two performers to interchange the main roles, which allows for pitch-in grandstanding by Dave Crossfield and Julie-Ann Randell. They make the most of their opportunities and it's a measure of how much more strongly the play develops that both hit peak form in the second half. That's when his bogus army major and her mother-dominated and neurotic young woman spark off an unprecedented rumble of impropriety.

Weighed against the forcefulness of these portrayals is a blissfully funny scene in which two of the hotel's rich elderly female residents learn with growing horror of the major's transgressions. It's delivered with delicious relish by Geraldine Cousin and Susi Walker, who also gets to sum up traditional prejudices of the day with exclamations like 'drunken red!' and 'sexual pervert!'

The overall strength of the production is enhanced by the fact that every character has been carefully cast. Much is achieved, for example, by Sandy Robertson's retired school housemaster, disgruntled and disengaged in the manner of the great Alastair Sim. And Julie Godfrey subtly conveys hidden emotions along with the quiet authority of the hotel manager who becomes something of a guiding light to her troubled residents.

The only weakness is when things become a little ponderous in the first half. At this point the play itself is rather too wordy and needs to be more forcefully driven.

But this production is a timely and excellent reminder of the power and prescience of a respected yet still possibly underrated playwright.



2016 Talisman Theatre