After the Dance

Wed 16th – Sat 19th May 2012


Tim Bano

at 01:53 on 17th May 2012



What happens after the dance? The dancers sit down, they rest, they catch their breath. The fun fades. For the 1930s hedonistic elite this is what was happening. War was beginning and youth was a weakening memory. Very little about this production was weak, however: the cast, the acting, the set were all fantastic.

The Bright Young Things of the 1920s are old now; the first grey hairs have appeared on the pillow, the brain-shattering hangovers do not fade with so much ease. It is 1939 and war looms. But the no-longer-it crowd are still drinking, partying, squandering wealth. They look back, reminiscing endlessly about the parties and the songs they used to enjoy, and Al Jolson’s Avalon is roused to a raucous chorus by the cast as drama unfolds on the balcony. The moneyed set rely on a song to evoke memories, and rely on memories to make them feel alive, but why is Helen right in condemning their nostalgia and clinging to the past? 1939 – the world changes and the future is but a silhouette; Joan, Julia, drugged-up Moya present a front, they bury their ‘true’ self, while Helen lives rooted in practicality, thinking about jobs, money, marriage – and she can express her love for David openly, while Julia cannot. The play is about how change for the country, for the entire world is reflected in the intransigence and mutability of these individuals.

Most of the acting was excellent but two parts particularly stood out: first and foremost Flora Zackon as Joan. Within the space of half an hour she progressed from phony, alcoholic and ageing socialite to a noble lover whose heart had been wrenched by her inability to express true emotion. Watching her as she lied to her husband, maintaining a front of indifference was devastating and her gait, her posture, the way she moved across stage drunk and, less often, sober turned her into a woman beyond her years. Phoebe Hames captured the gossipy, lascivious, brandy-soaked character of Julia brilliantly. She played it with an exaggerated quality that was completely hilarious but not over the top. She was almost panto, and that is fine because her character is not meant to be completely real – Julia, like all the former Bright Young Things, is putting on an act. Jordan Waller plays David very well, another twenty-something actor who could just as easily have been forty. He delivers his lines through a blonde moustache with husk and clarity – and he plies his nimble fingers at the piano, giving live renditions of Für Elise (bit cliché?) and Avalon.

As the audience filed in, it was greeted by a lavish set for which, clearly, no expense had been spared. On one side stood a grand piano, in the middle was an even grander chaise longue and stage left sat a desk and a typewriter, complete with actor (a typewriter is like an iPad with more buttons). It was fairly clear that the furniture was on loan because the actors were slightly careful about messing it around too much. Joan nervously fiddles with the gramophone, David plonks a glass on top of the piano and then snaps it up again immediately. And the chaise longue kept knocking into the drinks table behind, causing it to issue a distracting clatter throughout the second act. I like the old-style Bakelite phones with rotary dials but they are not very practical on stage, especially if the telephone number has lots of 9s in it. But it is all part of outstanding attention to detail – there was even an ancient copy of The Times.

These are my complaints: the liquid in the bottle of Laphroaig was colourless, when they could have effortlessly used something that looks a bit more whiskeyish; some (but only some) of the acting was a little weak, only noticeable in comparison to the rest, which was great; and, finally, patent black leather shoes with beige trousers? Oh dear. Still, these were the only shortcomings that I noticed, so venture out into the Oxonian outback, find LMH, and see this play.


Thomas Stell

at 03:14 on 17th May 2012



Dealing in the grotesque and magnificent memories and personalities of the Bright Young Things’ generation, Rattigan created one of his bleakest and most moving works. The students of Broken Lyre Productions do this play a great deal of credit in one of the best amateur productions I have seen this year.

As the decade ends, the glamorous set of thirties’ London is collapsing through its own insistent triviality and the approach of war. David Scott-Fowler is trying to write a biography of a king of Naples. He has been doing so for the past five years. He is a drinker, and getting old. On the morning after a party of his we are introduced to his dependants – a jaded old wastrel named John and the young secretary Peter. Soon we also meet David’s wife Joan – their marriage, apparently entered on a whim, is happy enough; and Peter’s earnest fiancée, Helen. She is devoted to David, and succeeds in persuading him to give up drink for a time, and concentrate on his writing. But it soon becomes clear David and Helen are infatuated with each other, and though Joan affects unconcern despite her unspoken love for her husband, the attachment will destroy her, and David, and Peter. No one will be saved.

All the central characters are played remarkably well – Jordan Waller’s David in particular. It is a difficult role, the actor having to make plausible his drinking and his abstinence, his dream of being a celebrated historian, his rages and his attachment to Helen and his wife, and the man is much too old for most undergraduates to present convincingly. With no need of make-up or a very noticeably period costume Waller transforms himself into a man of David’s age, era and generation perfectly, and does so with tremendous charm. Despite all the pain he causes the household with his self-indulgence we must like him and pity him.

Flora Zackon’s Joan is a triumph of a similar nature and on a similar scale, though here it is her self-sacrifice in letting David leave her, and the hiding of her feelings that are made completely believable, contributing to the pity we must feel for her too. Peter, a good, sincere man considered a “bore” by John – the worst condemnation possible in the eyes of his contemporaries, is presented equally charismatically by Jeremy Neumark Jones. Jessica Norman’s Helen is brilliantly manipulative, in her callous treatment of Peter and slightly unhealthy attachment to David she stops the play being a simple condemnation of the twenties’ and thirties’ party set; her outside influence is in its way just as sinister as their own excess, if not directly so.

Barnaby White, hilarious throughout, gives a performance as John which deserves to be praised just as highly, and the casting of the minor parts cannot be faulted – least of all the vulgar Julia (Phoebe Hames) and her working class companion Cyril (Edmond Seabright). All the scenes are well rehearsed and polished, Joan’s quiet suicide while a raucous party sings “Avalon” around the piano is done with perfect discretion and is one of the most poignant moments in the play.

It is pieces like this that demonstrate Rattigan’s great sensitivity – only the most ardent philistine would consider his work dated or too upper-middle class after seeing a play like this. I am very pleased then that so many good student actors are drawn to producing them. This is not to be missed.


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