First Episode – Jermyn Street Theatre

IMG_3760.JPGIt’s easy to be ambivalent about lost works by famous authors; they’re either the rediscovery of a forgotten gem or have often been lost for a reason and would have been better left that way.

But an early work by Terrence Rattigan is not to be sniffed at and this, his first play written when he was still a student, fortunately falls into the first category. While it shows the naivety of a first-time writer — some of the scenes go on too long, for example — it’s still a funny and often moving story of love and jealousy among an Oxford college set in the 1930s that gives us a fascinating peek at the early ideas of the man who would go on to pen classics such as Flare Path, Separate Tables and The Winslow Boy.

A group of undergraduates, among them life-long friends Tony (Gavin Fowler) and David (Philip Labey), are putting on a production of Antony and Cleopatra and have pulled off something of a coup by persuading movie star Margot Gresham (Caroline Langrishe) to appear. But hot-blooded young men and a mature beautiful woman are a heady mix and soon Margot’s presence has sent a few hormones rampant — particularly those of Tony, who falls madly in love with her. His infatuation with the worldly actress highlights that the friendship between him and David might go deeper than we first thought.

It gets a bit convoluted at times and the mix of comedy and high emotion doesn’t always gel. Some of the performances are just a little too stilted and the dialogue a bit over mannered even given the style of the times. Generally though it’s a well played and entertaining piece with director Tom Littler and his cast making good use of the small space. Caroline Langrishe is delicious as the sultry Margot, but it’s Molly Hanson making her professional debut as the ditzy Joan, who shows a deft comic touch and lights up the stage whenever she’s on.

Reviewed by Tony Peters

Photo: Flavia Fraser-Cannon

First Episode is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 22 November.