2011 marked the centenary year of Terence Rattigan’s birth and celebrations of his work swept the UK. One Telegraph critic labelled it, “an outbreak of Rattigan-worship”. Considered one of the most influential dramatists of the 20th century, Sir Terence’s works include The Winslow Boy, The Deep Blue Sea, After The Dance and The Browning Version.
The latter, his one act masterpiece written in 1948, was part of a mouth watering double bill with South Downs, David Hare’s contemporary response, written at the invitation of the Rattigan estate.
Both examine life in a boarding public school and revolve around unexpected acts of kindness, one from the perspective of a pupil and the other from that of a teacher. The Browning Version is based on Rattigan’s classics teacher at Harrow, and Hare wrote South Downs using his days at Lancing College as a backdrop.
Following a sellout run at the Chichester’s Festival Theatre Minerva Stage, it transferred to the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre in April 2012 for a three month season. Both pieces featured Anna Chancellor and Nicholas Farrell as leads. In South Downs, Anna plays Belinda Duffield and Nicholas is the Rev. Eric Dewley. In The Browning Version, Nicholas plays the despised departing teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris and Anna his unfaithful wife, Millie.
All the mainstream print media gave it no less than four stars. Charles Spencer in The Telegraph wrote “I gave it a rave review and five stars (at Chichester). Seeing it again on its transfer to the West End, it strikes me as an even greater achievement than it did then. If South Downs is a very good play then The Browning Version is an disputably great one. Nicolas Farrell’s performance is extraordinary and there is wonderful support from Anna Chancellor.”
Both Anna and Nicholas signed this montage sketch of both their respective characters at the Pinter stage door in July 2012.
Nicholas actually apologised for the slight variation in his usual autograph, correcting the initial spelling of his Christian name because he was “distracted by looking at the excellent sketch” while signing.