Terence Rattigan born 10 June 1911 (d. 1977)
Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan was one of England's most important 20th century dramatists. He was born in London, England of Irish Protestant extraction and educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford, and his work to some extent reflects this privileged and intellectual background.
Success as a playwright came early, with the light comedy French Without Tears in 1936, set in a crammer. Rattigan's determination to write a more serious play produced After the Dance (1939), a fine satirical social drama about the 'Bright Young Things' of the 1920s and their failure of political engagement in the darkening political climate of the 1930s. Unfortunately the war itself scuppered the play's chances of a long run. Rattigan would alternate between comedies and dramas, and after the war, a string of dramas made his name as one of the major playwrights of the day: The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), Adventure Story which was written about Alexander the Great and Separate Tables (1954).
Rattigan believed in craftsmanship, structure, and his plays find their emotions in the depths of subtext and formal organisation. This all became very old-fashioned after 1956 when John Osborne's Look Back in Anger announced a new kind of emotional explicitness and intensity. Rattigan, like many other writers of his generation, suffered an almost immediate eclipse, falling into critical disfavour.
Rattigan was not a thick-skinned writer and the decline in his reputation hit at his confidence. He retaliated in churlish interviews, and ill-advised comments in the plays, and in doing so he turned himself into his enemies' caricature of him: a conservative, old-fashioned, play-carpenter with no sympathy or understanding of the modern world. In fact, he was none of these things, he publicly supported Joe Orton and the Liberal Party, and some of the better work of the last twenty years of his life, like Ross, Man and Boy, In Praise of Love, and Cause Célèbre, stand up with the finest of his other work.
He was homosexual, with a string of lovers but no long-term partners. It has been said that most of his work is autobiographical, containing many coded references to his sexuality and the issues it raised in a society in which he was forced to keep this part of himself secret from all but the closest friends. There is certainly some truth in this, but it risks being crudely reductive, in, for example, the repeated (and unfounded) claim that Rattigan originally wrote The Deep Blue Sea as a play about male lovers, turning into a heterosexual play at the last minute. Rattigan's female characters are in fact finely drawn as female and are in no sense 'men in drag'.
He was diagnosed as having leukemia in 1962 and recovered two years later, but again fell ill in 1968. He disliked the Swinging Britain of the 1960s and moved abroad, living for the rest of the sixties in Bermuda, and living off lucrative, but forgettable screenplays (for a time he was the highest-paid screenwriter in the world). He was knighted in the early seventies and moved back to Britain where he experienced a minor revival in his reputation before his death from bone cancer in 1977 at the age of 66.
Fifteen years after his death, largely through a magnificent revival of The Deep Blue Sea, at the Almeida Theatre, London, directed by Karel Reisz, Rattigan came to be seen as one of the century's finest playwrights, an expert choreographer of staged emotion, an anatomist of human emotional pain. A string of successful revivals follows. Most recently, in 2005, Man and Boy was revived at the Duchess Theatre, London, with David Suchet as Gregor Antonescu. The Chichester Festival Theatre revived his last play In Praise Of Love as part of its 2006 summer season, and the Royal Exchange, Manchester, offered a well-received Separate Tables directed by Sarah Frankcom. His play on the last days of Nelson, A Bequest to the Nation was revived on Radio 4 for Trafalgar 200.
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