Home » Reviews » South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre

South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre

South Downs
David Hare
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

The Browning Version
Terence Rattigan
Directed by Angus Jackson

Pros: Strong performances, great set, excellent lighting. The Browning Version in particular is a true masterpiece from one of the greatest playwrights of all time.
Cons: South Downs is a slightly less meaty script, and may leave you wondering what exactly happened towards the end.
Our Verdict: An engaging introduction to the evening with South Downs followed by a flawless performance of The Browning Version.
Courtesy of Alastair Muir for The Daily Telegraph
Just in case you missed it, last year was of course the centenary of Terence Rattigan’s birth. You would have had to work fairly hard to miss it, mind you, as the London theatre scene was bursting with revivals of his plays to mark this momentous occasion. This production, albeit a little late in hitting the London stage, falls quite snugly into that celebration. The Browning Version, one of Rattigan’s more famed works, is a one act play which is usually performed alongside another, called Harlequinade. However, to mark the 100th year since his birth, the estate which controls his work thought it timely to seek a new staging partner for Rattigan’s masterpiece. It approached David Hare to create such a play, and South Downs is the result. How then, does this double bill fare?
South Downs and The Browning Version are both set in public schools, and explore the atmosphere there in their respective time periods (the 40’s for The Browning Version, the 60’s for South Downs). They do so in very different ways, however. Rattigan’s play is seen through the eyes of the Masters, while Hare’s is more to do with the experience of the Boys. The Browning Version is a one scene play, while South Down is a series of vignettes. The plays compliment each other well, although their content and themes differ. To write a play to be performed alongside a masterpiece like The Browning Version is a gargantuan task for any playwright, but David Hare has faced up to the challenge and delivered a robust and engaging piece.

That being said, any play pitched alongside a piece of writing that is as good as The Browning Version is going to be put under the microscope, and whilst we enjoyed South Downs it just wasn’t quite in the same league as Rattigan’s corker, which is close to theatrical perfection. South Downs is a slightly less meaty story, and the characters perhaps needed a bit more development for us to truly connect with them in the same way that we did with emotionally reserved characters delivered to us in The Browning Version. It’s a mild complaint, but the contrast is noticeable we felt.

The double bill is expertly designed by Tom Scutt. No technical gimmicks in this production, but  just an aesthetically pleasing set design which frames the action perfectly. For South Downs, large cavernous wooden spaces (with echoing sound effects to complete the atmosphere), and a sumptuous box set representing the Master’s apartment in The Browning Version. The whole thing is lit impeccably by Neil Austin, arguably one of the best lighting designers in Britain today. His lighting never ceases to impress, and this is no exception.
But what about the acting? This is a show with no weak links in terms of performance, although the star of the show is Nicholas Farrell, hands down. Although he gives a very good rendition in South Downs as Rev Eric Dewly, he truly shines through in The Browning Version as the broken and heart-wrenching Crocker-Harris. His characterisation is impeccable in both cases, so much so that it is all too easy not to realise it is the same person acting the two roles. Hats off to this remarkable performance. There are plenty of other great deliveries too, and the younger actors, notably Alex Lawther as the protagonist Blakemore in South Downs, deserve much praise for their renditions.
In short, this double bill is an entertaining production which has plenty to offer. I found that I particularly enjoyed The Browning Version for its poignant content, strong performances and sharp wit, but South Downs also proved itself to be an entertaining start to the evening. Certainly, the two plays compliment each other, and together form what is undoubtably an enjoyable evening of theatre.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
South Downs/The Browning Version runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 21st July 2013. 

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