The Tower Theatre performing Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate
Review by Caroline Jenner of Sardines magazine
Following on from the highly successful and better known French Without Tears, Rattigan's second play After the Dance probably owes its current fame to the fact that the National Theatre's revival in 2010 starred the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch. Initially opening in June 1939 to favorable reviews, its success was cut short by the outbreak of war, allowing only 60 performances, adding an even greater poignancy to the story itself. Rattigan himself did not include it in his collected works, and it quickly became known as "the lost play". Although rarely performed this is a piece that can easily stand alongside many of Rattigan's better known works with its themes of repressed emotion and social criticism of those trying to escape reality.
The central characters David Scott-Fowler and his wife Joan have frittered away their youth in a round of hedonistic alcohol ridden parties, thriving on gossip and believing that taking anything seriously is "a bore". Peter, David's cousin, and his girlfriend Helen, represent the more idealistic younger generation with their Chekovian desire to work. The mad round of parties helps block out not only the memories of the terrible Great War but hide the reality of the next conflict that was looming.
Dan Usztan, through some strong direction, managed to combine moral seriousness with some more light hearted moments in an impressive piece of theatre. Michael Bettell's functional set of a lavish thirties Mayfair apartment was given an interesting touch with a selection of debris that marked the front of the stage; cards and coins, racquets and empty bottles combined to provide a complex web of symbolic detritus.
The performances were excellent. Lisa Castle was incredibly moving as the seemingly bright and irrepressible Joan Scott-Fowler who has never managed to reveal to her husband just how much she loves him. Her moments of stillness and repressed sobs when she learns he is leaving her for a younger woman, were achingly painful. Dom Ward was convincing as the self-destructive alcoholic historian, who recognises he is wasting his opportunities and believes he sees in Helen the chance of a better life. A clear picture appeared of an intelligent man who throughout the play developed a growing awareness of his own pointlessness. The scene where he and Joan belatedly realise that they have misunderstood each other for most of their married life was beautifully understated in its sadness.
Amy Harrison's Helen, was performed with an elegant self-confidence which completely captured the personality of this naïve woman on a mission to redeem an older man at the expense of his marriage. Despite her obvious desire to 'do good', as an audience we never really wanted her to succeed, and she is certainly not a character we warm to. George Turner, as Peter Scott-Fowler, showed the repressed anquish of the level-headed, young cousin who had only allowed himself a few chaste kisses with his intended and did not feel it necessary to drink before dinner. This later surfaces as a heart-breaking sense of bitterness at the way life has treated him.
From the moment he emerged from under a dust sheet Joel Cottrell gave a witty, touching performance as the supposedly opportunistic friend, John, delivering his one-liners with great aplomb. It is only in the third and fourth acts we gradually begin to see that there is a deeper sense of morality slowly coming to the fore. He painted a world of babies in Balham with just the right amount of caustic humour, only then to end up working for a window cleaning business in Manchester.
There were also some strong cameo performances by other members of the cast, notably Philippa Tatham as the overbearing Julia and Ruth Antony, who performed both her roles as the drunken aviator, Moya, and as the stony faced, acerbic Miss Potter to great effect. However, the company as a whole worked well together to create the ensemble scenes and provided appropriate characterisations which added to the overall feel of the period.
The fact that this beautifully written play was crafted just before the war began adds to the pathos of the piece. It epitomises the self-destructive nature of the "bright young things", who saw the world they had known destroyed and were not ready to accept that it might take place all over again. The haunting use of the 1920 foxtrot, Avalon, and some beautiful costumes sourced by Jessica Hammett all helped to make this an excellent piece of theatre and well worth the journey from South London. Running till this Saturday, July 12th, I would definitely recommend a visit!
Photography by David Sprecher
Cast John Reid : Joel Cottrell
Peter Scott-Fowler : George Turner
Williams : Tom Tillery
Joan Scott-Fowler : Lisa Castle
Helen Banner : Amy Harrison
Dr George Banner : Dean Brown
Julia Browne : Philippa Tatham
Cyril Carter : Dan Clegg
David Scott-Fowler : Dom Ward
Moya Lexington/Miss Potter : Ruth Anthony
Lawrence Walters : Peter Novis
Arthur Power : Jonathan Norris
Director : Dan Usztan
Set Design : Michael Bettell
Costume Design : Jessica Hammett
Lighting Design : Jess Bernberg
Sound Design : Dan Usztan with Phillip Ley
Stage Manager: Sarah Ambrose
Assistant Director : Jessica Hammett
ASMs : Ruth Sanderson, Ann Watchorn
Lighting Operator : Stephen Ley
Sound Operator : Lesley Scarth
Set Construction and Get-in : Phillip Ley, Ben Winyard, Michael
Bettell, Rob Irvine, Alan Wilkinson, Adam Taylor and members of the cast & crew
Publicity Manager : Jean Collins
Joel Cottrell didn't get a degree at Exeter University and trained in
Clown at …cole Philippe Gaulier in Paris. He was artistic director of
Harbinger Theatre Company and an associate director of the Lyric Young
Company. This is his first production for the Tower Theatre. In his
spare time, he whittles figurines of famous Marxists.
George Turner is currently studying Performance Practice at Central St Martins and recently appeared as Tom in The Accrington Pals. He trained at the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain under Michael Bryans in 2012. He is thrilled to be performing for the first time Upstairs at the Gatehouse where his dad acted throughout the 80s.
A Tower member since 1959, Tom Tillery has appeared in over a hundred productions ranging from Shakespeare to Kander and Ebb, Euripides to Sandy Wilson. He thinks this is his sixth part playing a butler. He collects theatre programmes and has about four thousand, with the earliest being from 1892.
Lisa Castle is delighted to return to the Tower Theatre, where roles include Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, Nell Gwyn in Playhouse Creatures and Corrie in Barefoot in the Park. Elsewhere : Andi in Your Nation Loves You (Delirium); Nina in The Seagull (Frank Theatre); Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing and Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Rooftop Theatre).
Amy Harrison trained at RADA and this is her second production with the Tower Theatre; she recently†played Eva in The Accrington Pals. Previous roles include Ophelia in†Hamlet, Miranda in The Tempest†(MDCC); Abigail in†The Crucible, Lady Macbeth in†Macbeth†(Crescent Theatre); Freya in†Earthquakes in London, Cassius in†Julius Caesar and Sophia in†When They Bloom (RADA).
After the Dance is Dean Brown's fourth show with the Tower Theatre, having previously appeared in Terrorism, The Slab Boys and The Voysey Inheritance. By day he works as an investigator for the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Philippa Tatham joined The Tower Theatre in 2007. Since then she has appeared in a number of productions, including†Measure for Measure,†Macbeth,†Curiouser and Curiouser,†The Maids, David Copperfield,†The Fabulous Eddie and Otis Soul Revue†and The Voysey Inheritance. She has also assisted in various readings and Friends' Nights.
This is Dan Clegg's debut with the Tower Theatre. His other roles
include Charles VII in The Lark, Dave in Stags and Hens and, most recently, a brutal Nazi officer in Bent, (Woodhouse Players).
Dan danced in the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and played a banker in a charity Christmas pantomime at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
After being press-ganged into a production of The Entertainer in 2001, Dom Ward briefly cornered the market in romantic juveniles including roles in A View from the Bridge and Hot Mikado. He now specialises in undesirables such as Stanley (The Birthday Party) and Steerforth (David Copperfield). Dom also directs, most recently Coyote on a Fence starring his current director.
Ruth Anthony is returning to the stage for her third performance with the Tower Theatre having played Christina Mundy in
Dancing at Lughnasa and Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood! Ruth also contributes regularly to the Tower Theatre as
Peter Novis has been with the Tower since 1988. Favourite roles include Herman Glogauer in†Once in a Lifetime; the Dada in†Entertaining Mr†Sloane; several parts in the annual Tower Shakespeare productions in Paris; an Ugly Sister in†Cinderella; and Mr Dick in†David Copperfield. He has also directed for the Tower in London, Paris and Cornwall.
Over his 20 Tower Company years,†Jonathan Norris has been involved in about 60 productions - acting,†music-directing (A Little Night Music†and†Guys and Dolls) or helping to provide music on keyboard or trombone. By day, he and his wife Ruth commute in from fashionable Clapton to earn a crust as Administrators of the Company.
Dan Usztan joined the Tower Theatre two years ago and played Bobby in Coyote on a Fence, Gerry in Dancing at Lughnasa and Dennis in Loot. His directing credits include The Ruffian on the Stair, Our Country's Good, Bear Hug, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Crucible, Daisy Pulls It Off (Woodhouse Players) and The Comedy of Errors (Courtyard, Hoxton).