David Suchet, single-handedly brings dramatic life to playwright Terence Rattigan’s “Man and Boy’ which has been powerfully revived by director Maria Aitken. The play originally premiered briefly in the West End in 1963, where it received appalling notices before its swift burial in the sarcophagus of anachronistic affected drawing room drama.
The sudden arrival of kitchen-sink drama, as exemplified in John Osborne’s play “Look Back In Anger” which premiered in 1956, saw working class rage jostle the affluent classes from the stage, as the reality of living with poverty and lack of opportunity demanded to be heard above the more feigned dilemmas of upper class boredom and emotional inaptitude. As a consequence, Rattigan suddenly found himself out of favour because of this thespian revolution.
‘Man and Boy’ is about a father’s unwillingness to return his son’s love. If accepting love has the ability to redeem then the father in Rattigan’s ‘Man and Boy’ wants none of it. The father is Romanian multi-billionaire Gregor Antonescu, whose financial empire has been built upon racketeering, securing loans against assets that do not exist and misusing the charitable foundation set up in his wife’s name. However, in 1930’s America, Antonescu’s luck is rapidly disappearing and in a desperate bid to avoid the media’s gaze and secretly attempt one last financial deal, he unexpectedly turns up at the Greenwich apartment of his estranged son, Basil. Here we discover the amoral nature of Gregor Antonescu as we watch him use his witless son as a sexual pawn with which to entice the closeted homosexual chairman of American Electric to agree to a merger.
The difficulty with the play is the overly dramatic plot that raises too many distracting questions in a drama, which is in essence, about a troubled relationship between father and son. For example, if Basil, as a socialist, is so disgusted with his pedigree, which means he is the off-spring of a financially corrupt capitalist, why is he so quick to try and regain his father’s love? And if Antonescu does feel scorn for his son’s ineffectiveness, why does he fear Basil’s conscience so much?
However, even with these problems, this production of ‘Man and Boy’ captured my attention because of the wonderful ability of David Suchet to infuse vigour into his role. Cold and conceited, he manipulates those around him with a fiendish charm. What especially makes Suchet’s portrayal so effective is the way he exposes Antonescu’s isolation, not as a weakness, but as a brutal necessity. Even when he embraces his son he remains calmly detached and you can almost hear his body language say “I must not get too close”.
Ben Silverstone heartbreakingly captures the emotionally starved Basil, who cannot stop himself loving his father even though he knows his father perceives it as a weakness to be spurned. David Yelland as Sven, Antonescu’s loyal and discreet employee and Helen Grace as the countess, his social climbing wife, both give good support.
Rattigan’s Man and Boy may be a messy drama, but David Suchet’s powerful performance cuts through the melodramatic plot with his charismatic portrayal of wanton greed.
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STRANDARD says, "David Suchet's enthralling portrayal of evil in action.." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "..turns out to be far better than its initial detractors claimed, though well short of vintage Rattigan....Its prime weakness is that the far-fetched plot fails to match the authenticity of the emotion." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Thanks to his[David Suchet] theatrical alchemy, a potentially leaden play glistens with life." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "A cracking production." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Suchet is, thrillingly, a master-actor."