“One has to be careful about the things one reveals”
The Jermyn Street Theatre seem to be a little bit off with their timing here with The Art of Concealment. They were first off the mark in the capital last year in Terence Rattigan’s centenary year with their production of Less Than Kind, so importing a biographical piece like this one by Giles Cole now feels a little redundant, given how much of his work, and work inspired by his life, we were able to gorge ourselves upon. But still, he’s a figure I find fascinating and so I was more than willing to give this play a try.
The Art of Concealment plays for the most part like a simple biography of the English playwright. The older version, nearing death, recounts tales of his youth as he escaped the shadow of his father’s expectations to pursue a career writing in the theatre. As we see, he became quite the professional success with a string of successes on the West End stage, but this was countered by the secrecy of his private life as he remained desperate to keep his homosexuality a secret from his public, and more importantly from his mother, much to the chagrin of his lovers.
Cole’s writing too often falls into idle biography, often feeling like the simple recounting of a Wikipedia entry in the first half, as little that is new is revealed and little that is entertaining is explored. The interactions between Rattigans old and new were too few and far between to have any real merit, which was a shame as Alistair Findlay and Propeller alumnus Dominic Tighe respectively both did good work; and the one moment of flair – the personification of his audience in the form of Aunt Edna – fell a little bit flat, not really striking home.
The performances from the cast meant that this was never a boring experience: Graham Pountney and Judy Buxton made appealingly stiff parental figures, the types of which can be spotted in many of his plays, and Pountney also delighted as one of a pair of stalwart hangers-on, Christopher Morgan’s Cuthbert Worsley the other, their queening about often highly amusing. But aside from the recounting of fact, and the withering put-downs of exploitative friends and lovers, there’s little real insight into Rattigan which was the most disappointing aspect – we could have seen so much more about his play-writing, ultimately of which we see so very little.