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Man and Boy
by Lizzie Loveridge

I deserve it all.
--- Gregor Antonescu
Man and Boy
David Suchet as Gregor Antonescu
(Photo: John Haynes)

Man and Boy may not be the very best of Rattigan but in the hands of an outstanding actor like David Suchet, this play transcends the ordinary. I cannot remember when I was last so enthralled by a performance in the theatre. The expert stage presence of this man makes boys of many of today's actors. Although the play is set in the 1930s the ethics of business and businessmen is an issue which equally resonates today. Suchet keeps us guessing until the last seconds of the last act as to how low he will go to achieve his economic survival.

I haven't seen a play directed before by Maria Aitken, only knowing her as an actor. Her theatre experience shows in this finely tuned production. From Ben Silverstone as the disaffected son of the famous man, she has drawn out a very good performance. I had tears in my eyes as father and son are reconciled after five years estranged from each other.

Unlike some of the advance publicity which I think is rather misleading, this is not a play about love and betrayal but one about business and the lengths and dirty tricks to which a man will go to win in what he perceives to be a game. It is set in a rather dilapidated apartment in Greenwich Village of a pianist called Basil Anthony (Ben Silverstone) and his actress girlfriend, Carol Penn (Jennifer Lee Jellicorse). A captain of industry's lieutenant, Sven Johnson (David Yelland) enters to prepare the way for the arrival of his employer, a mighty magnate in crisis, Gregor Antonescu (David Suchet). We learn that Basil Anthony is in fact Vasili Antonescu, Gregor's son. Antonescu has arranged a meeting at the apartment with David Herries (Colin Stinton) to broker a deal which has gone pear shaped, knocking thousands off the value of shares on Antonescu's company. Later they are joined by Antonescu's second wife the Countess Antonescu (Helen Grace).

From the moment Suchet in his camel hair coat enters. he commands the stage. He is every inch the important businessman who, under that polished and elegant exterior, calculates with the precision of a predatory cobra.

The play has been well constructed so that the drama builds up to Antonescu's entrance. Gregor Antonescu is faced with Herries' accountant, David Beeston (Will Huggins) who has uncovered some unreliable accounting in Bucharest in one of Antonescu's companies. Antonescu quite mercilessly discredits the accountant by making him look foolish and ill informed and then plays his ace by raking the mud on Herries' private life.

It is fascinating to watch Suchet's character in action -- a skilled operator, very ruthless and yet to be admired in his powers of manipulation. His victim played by Will Huggins is discomposed so that his wrists come out of his shirt sleeves as he gets more and more upset.

I liked too the performance of Ben Silverstone, agitated, excitable, nervously thin, he has the brittleness of one of Noel Coward's abused young men. David Yelland is the perfectly cool aide; he hasn't worked for Antonescu all these years without picking up a trick or two. The women's parts work less well. The actress is simply awed by the celebrity of Antonescu and the shallow, trophy wife, plucked from an English typing pool is maybe the least well drawn of the play's characters.

The set is simple, showing both bedroom and living room (with a glimpse into the bathroom) of the rather scruffy and untidy apartment. I appreciated the designer not going overboard with 1930s design but allowing for some items from an earlier date.

I found myself admiring Rattigan's foresight when in 1934 Antonescu criticises Stalin's death camps but soon realised that he was writing much later. In fact, although set in the 1930s, Man and Boy was one of his last plays, written in 1963. It has whetted my appetite for more Rattigan and I shall fight for a ticket to anything else that David Suchet graces.

Man and Boy
Written by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Maria Aitken

Starring: David Suchet, David Yelland
With: Ben Silverstone, Colin Stinton, Helen Grace, Jennifer Lee Jellicorse, Will Huggins
Designed by Simon Higlett
Lighting: Mick Hughes
Sound and Music: Howard Davidson
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1103
Booking to 9th April 2005.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th February 2005 performance at the Duchess Theatre Catherine Street London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden)
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