Review by David Munro
ORIGINALLY entitled Like Son, Man and Boy
was intended as one half of a double bill of plays Terence Rattigan
was writing for Rex Harrison.
As the first playlet – Like Father - was expanded
into a full length play, Rattigan decided to the same with Like
When he sent the play to Harrison, he refused to play it as
he disliked the thought of appearing as homosexual even if the
character was only pretending to be gay.
As a result, after it had been turned down by several other leading
actors, including Olivier, the part was given to Charles Boyer
who opened the play to mixed reviews at the Queen's Theatre in
Rattigan, at that time, had been going through a bad period and
he felt he needed to re-establish himself as a major playwright
and that this was the play to do it.
He firmly believed this was the best play he had written but
only Bernard Levin and TC Worsley, of the critics, agreed with
The play ran eight and a half weeks in London and was even less
successful when it eventually arrived on Broadway, for which it
had primarily been written.
The play takes place in the flat of Basil, the estranged son
of Gregor Antonescu, a financier who is facing ruin and who is
trying to avoid it by a merger with another company run by a financier,
Rumours are circulating that the merger will not occur and Gregor
persuades his son to allow him to use his flat for a meeting with
Herris to try and save his position.
The boy agrees, not realising that his father intends to use
him as bait to entrap Herris into agreement by exploiting the
fact that Herris is gay.
He realises what his father has done when Herris discreetly tries
to proposition him.
He plays along to help his father but when Herris leaves, he
storms out of the flat only to return when he discovers that the
FBI have a warrant out to arrest Gregor.
He tries to help his father escape but his efforts are rejected
by his father who has his own solution to the problem.
The theme of the play, apart from the politics of high finance,
is the inability of men and women to accept love and reject those
who try to love them.
Gregor’s assistant, Sven, plays the voice of reason and
is the one Gregor can accept, up to a point, as he makes no emotional
claims on him, which his wife and son do, and are therefore rejected.
The mainspring of the play, that of a man using his son to entrap
a homosexual colleague for business purposes, is not a pleasant
one, even now, particularly as Gregor pretends for purposes of
plot that the boy is not his son, but his lover.
It is, however, even less pleasant in that Gregor is ruthless
in his determination to achieve his ends even if that results
in the exploitation and ultimate humiliation of those he uses
to achieve it.
In the course of his machinations, he humiliates his son, his
wife and to an extent himself by his inhumanity and callousness.
One can see why the play was rejected by so many leading actors.
Gregor has, on paper, no redeeming features and it is difficult
to empathise with him, or to see why one should care to watch
his despicable little schemes.
It, therefore, says a lot for the skill of Rattigan as a dramatist
and, in this case, David Suchet as Gregor, that the audience remain
to the end of the play.
Suchet turns with the assistance of a first rate cast, this rather
squalid plot into the superb drama of a man's self deceit and
self-destruction that Rattigan clearly envisaged.
While finagling his way out his difficulties, Suchet endows
the man with a certain humanity and self-deprecating humour which
draws the sting out of the nastier aspects of the plot.
At the end, when Sven and his wife,
for their separate reasons, desert him, he accepts their going
with resignation and humorous acceptance.
He creates an enigmatic veil over his relationship with his son.
Although he tells Sven he could love a daughter but not a son,
his body language when he is with the boy belie this. His final
rejection of the boy is ambivalent and you are left wondering
if he rejects the boy because of the boy’s devotion, or
whether he does it so the boy will not be penalised for helping
his father escape.
His relationship with Sven (a superb performance by David Yelland),
his devoted assistant with an eye to the main chance, is very
Suchet makes it clear from their tete a tetes, which are Rattigan’s
dramatic ploy to explain and develop his character, that while
he is prepared to use him, he neither trusts him, nor is he surprised
when, before Sven defects, he is requested to exculpate Sven from
the final debacle.
Rattigan hints, but does not make it clear, that it could be
Sven and not Herris who brought about the disaster, which looks
like ruining Gregor and which he spends the play trying to avoid
and David Yelland’s subtle performance makes such a theory
Ben Silverstone delineates the tortured yet ultimately loyal
and loving son with a sure hand.
His early scenes with his girlfriend, Carol, (a warm and tender
performance by Jennifer Lee Jellicorse), reveal that, like his
father, he rejects her love as he can’t cope with it.
As the play develops, so he develops the character so as to
appear the obverse side of his father; the same characteristic
traits but with an ability to use them for humanity rather than
His final scene with his father, which is, through the performance
of the two actors, emotionally charged but not overplayed, leaves
it open that he will profit by accepting their similarities and
use the knowledge for a better purpose in life.
Herris (Colin Stinton) and his accountant, Beeston (Will Huggins),
have one effective scene which is dominated by Suchet’s
bravura performance as he draws Herris into his web. Nevertheless,
they still managed to emerge bloody but unbowed, a remarkable
feat in itself and one for which they both deserve credit.
Countess Antonescu (Emma Ferguson ) is both a pawn in her husband’s
schemes and in Rattigan’s clear desire not to have a male
She has one effective scene with Suchet where she tries to win
back his attention, and a second when she runs scared at the coming
disaster and disassociates herself from it, allowing Suchet a
telling piece of business with her mink cape which he silently
hands her as a gesture of dismissal.
The action is well set off by Simon Higlett’s two room
and poverty stricken apartment ,which was a telling back ground
to the drama it encompassed.
Finally, one cannot overlook how much Maria Aitken’s direction
gave in thrusting the play from a forgotten piece into a really
first class play.
Despite its many flaws, I think even Rattigan, who was notoriously
picky with his directors in his latter days, would have appreciated
that she has finally created the reality of what he always believed
– that this was the best play he ever wrote.
An opinion which, with his track record, is open to discussion
but I cannot believe that any one seeing this production and David
Suchet’s performance would not agree that it deserves far
more appreciation than it received on its original showing.
If this time it does not achieve the respect and acclaim it deserves
in the West End, I shall be very surprised and I hate surprises!
Perhaps it will accomplish the ultimate irony of obtaining the
award named after the Actor who turned it down those many years
ago – I sincerely hope so.
Man And Boy by Terence Rattigan.
Directed by Maria Aitken; Designer, Simon Higlett; Lighting, Mick
Hughes; Sound, Howard Davidson.
CAST: David Suchet; Jennifer Lee Jellicorse; Ben Silverstone;
David Yelland; Colin Stinton; Will Huggins; Emma Ferguson.
Presented by Michael Whitehall & Guildford’s Yvonne
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Nov 22 – Sat, November 27, 2004.
Evenings: 7.45pm / Matinees: Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088