TERENCE Rattigan is best known for his dramas of difficult lives, so a comedy is something of a surprise … and a delightful one.
While the Sun Shines, the second play in the Bath Theatre Royal summer season, is directed by Christopher Luscombe, and runs until 30th July.
First performed in London in 1943 it was set in the present in the Earl of Harpenden’s chambers at Albany, on the eve of his wedding to Elizabeth, daughter of a penurious Duke who has gambled away the family fortune.
The charming young earl, Bobby, has (literally) picked up a American airman from the street and given him a bed for the night. And before he heads to the Admiralty for another doomed interview, Bobby sets up his guest with some female company.
But it all goes horribly wrong when Elizabeth turns up and Lt Joe Mulvaney mistakes her for his intended escort. Love is in the air. Enter the Duke, intent on ensuring his allowance from his daughter’s fiance.
Then there’s the amorous Frenchman whom Elizabeth met on the train, the clever Mabel Crum, a woman with a liking for men in uniform, and the dependable butler Horton.
The Bath version collates lines from the 1943 script, with some from Rattigan’s Collected Plays from 1953 and a handful of lines from the 1947 film, as well as a few expunged by the Lord Chancellor’s blue pencil. The result is a delightful look at young love in a time of conflict.
Bobby and Elizabeth have been going to be married since childhood, so neither of them has really thought about love at all. The Duke is expecting the nuptials, and the money they will bring. Bobby is an orphan, and has sowed his wild oats. Both men have known the charms of shorthand typist Mabel Crum.
When French Lt Colbert meets Elizabeth on a long night on the train, he talks of love and passion in the Gallic way, and she’s entranced. In that heightened state of mind, her encounter with the handsome young American knocks her off her feet.
But, rather in the way of an Anouilh fantasy, dawn brings sense, and it all turns out fine in the end, or seems to be about to do so.
While the Sun Shines is full of funny one liners, keen observations of class, nationalism, male bonding and the English temperament and provides a welcome chance to laugh in a time of great tension and change. Not Rattigan as you know it, but well worth a visit to Bath.