The new production of Terence Rattigan's Cause Celebre at the Old Vic is a highlight of the Rattigan centenary events.
Indeed it may easily be the highlight since the audience is held by both the story and Anne-Marie Duff's fine performance as Alma.
Alma is the young flirtatious wife of the elderly architect Francis Rattenbury. The story of the wife and chauffeur being accused of killing Francis is well-known to older people and young law students.
Rattigan wrote the play in his last days in 1977 having first written a radio version. The story is based on a real drama which gripped the nation in 1935. Rattigan remembered the hysteria and so was able to reproduce the tension of the day found in both the press and the courtroom.
The murder took place in Bournemouth which was a town known to Rattigan over subsequent years. His plays had been staged there at The Pavilion Theatre and at the time of his death both his plays running in the West End were set in the town.
Cause Celebre was written before the days of cuts so there is a huge cast of twenty-one.
Anne-Marie Duff is required to keep switching from court room anguish back to her drunken flirtatious behaviour on the murder night. The others are also well-cast. Jenny Galloway playing the down to earth companion Irene looks as if she really runs Alma's house.
Tommy McDonnell is the naive chauffeur George Wood who gives a good impression of being the working class teenager all at sea both in the upper class household and in court.
Niamh Cusack playing the model jury foreman conveys the loneliness of her task and her own life.
Despite this being a true horror story, the play provides is a most enjoyable two and a half hours, including interval, in the world of Bournemouth and London in the Thirties.
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