First Episode – Review

Caroline Langrishe in Final Episode. Photos by Flavia Fraser-Cannon.
Caroline Langrishe in Final Episode. Photos by Flavia Fraser-Cannon.

There’s probably a very good reason if a play hasn’t been performed since its first outing 80 years ago, even if it is written by a top playwright.

First Episode, a story about the off-campus behaviour of a group of Oxford students, was the debut play of 22-year-old fellow undergraduate Terence Rattigan.

It caused a storm of protest when first performed in 1933 because the academics were seen gambling, swearing, and having sex. Even worse, it showed a young couple in bed enjoying the moment and hinted at..gasp..homosexuality.

Fast track to the Jermyn Street Theatre, in central London, on Friday and it was the opening night of Primavera Productions’ revival.

Today the shock factor is nil, the dialogue absurd, and the story dull as dishwater. It’s a museum piece which should have been allowed to fade into theatrical history without the embarrassment of an ill-judged resurrection.

First Episode takes place in the shabby living room of a house shared by four students.

Tony (Gavin Fowler) is producing Antony And Cleopatra for the uni drama society and he’s hired a proper professional actress, Margot Gresham, to play the Egyptian queen.

 Final Episode

Tony, a fan of the star, soon acts on his infatuation with Margot (Caroline Langrishe) and, despite her being more than twice his age, embarks on an affair.

The relationship angers fellow student David (Phillip Labey) who is plainly jealous.

As the ill-judged romance begins to sour the story dabbles with the boys’ reckless betting and one overly shy (and terribly dull) lad, Bertie (over-played by Adam Buchanan), falling for aspiring actress, and vacuous blonde Joan (Molly Hanson).

The play only really picks up towards the end when it changes direction.

But the comedy is amateurish and some scenes ramble on without any clear purpose. Director Tom Littler should have had the confidence to wade in and drastically edit a number of scenes.

At the end of the day it’s just a story about the every-day lives of students.

In the 1930s it may have been a deep and mysterious world to the public at large, but today we’re all too aware of how students spend their down-time at university.

Caroline Langrishe is much too good an actress to be in a production like this.

She does the best that she can but the dialogue is laughingly bad.

But Labey gives a subtle performance as a young man struggling with his sexuality at a time when his natural proclivities were illegal.

Rattigan went on to become one of this country’s premier dramatists, producing work like The Browning Version, Deep Blue Sea, The Winslow Boy and Separate Tables.

First Episode was a promising start but it was very much a story of its time – and its time has long gone.

First Episode runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until November 22.

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