Cause Célèbre by Terence Rattigan
Teddington Theatre Club
Hampton Hill Theatre - 11 March 2020
Review by Eleanor Lewis
Set in the 1930s, Cause Célèbre was based on the true case of Alma Rattenbury and George Wood. When Alma Rattenbury’s marriage to the elderly Francis reaches the sleeping on separate floors of the house stage, she hires 17 year old George as chauffeur and general help. He becomes her lover. However, on realising that Alma and Francis’ marriage is not in fact entirely dead, George finds himself unable to cope and takes extreme action. Horrified, Alma rises to the occasion, assumes personal responsibility and is tried alongside George for her husband’s murder.
Rattigan, however, has more to bring to his audience’s attention than a shocking trial. He is fabulously good at women, specifically women of a certain age about whom he writes with great sensitivity. Hester Collyer in The Deep Blue Sea (1944) and Olivia Brown in Love in Idleness (1952) are witty, intelligent and firing on all cylinders, their lives restricted only by the social mores of the time, and their men – both lovers and sons. Alma Rattenbury is another of these women, far more than the wicked corruptor of boys the tabloids would have her be. Rattigan’s master stroke in Cause Célèbre, though, was to include the character of Edith Davenport and TTC’s master stroke (presumably in the person of director Fiona Smith) was to cast Jane Marcus as Mrs Davenport.
Superficially Edith Davenport is the antithesis of Alma Rattenbury. Alma takes sexual freedom for granted. Edith is someone for whom ‘that side of things’ has never given her any pleasure, but the two women are in fact close in character and in their sense of what is right. Both are also doomed to misery, one for following her passionate soul, the other for not knowing hers existed. Jane Marcus’ performance as Edith Davenport was both skilful and endearing. This potentially wounded and embittered woman was seen as a sympathetic, dignified character whose emotional life had been cruelly unfulfilled. When the judge refuses her pleas to be excused jury service as she knows she is prejudiced against Mrs Rattenbury, Edith grits her teeth and goes on to do her duty with great integrity.
For full review: http://markaspen.com/2020/03/08/cause-celebre/