You cannot move for Terence Rattigan at the moment. The National has The Deep Blue Sea, The Arcola had Kenny Morgan and Chichester had (I am afraid I saw it on its last day) Rattigan’s 1960 play Ross, about Lawrence during and after Arabia.
Joseph Fiennes takes on the role of ‘Ross’ the pseudonym T.E Lawrence used so he could join the RAF. It is the story of a sad and awkward man hailed a hero and despite Fiennes advancing years,at 46 is now the same age Lawrence was when he died, he is completely convincing as Lawrence through the ages, both physically and emotionally but it just doesn’t feel like Fiennes has a lot to play with and the performance is hard to find exceptional as a result.
This play seems exceptionally bold for its time. It doesn’t cover anything that Lawrence didn’t reveal in Seven Pillars of Wisdom and it takes the view that Lawrence was a closeted sado-masochist. This sadly is the play’s strength. Lawrence the man is fascintating but Lawrence the strategist is dull and at 3 hours it needs to fly by, it really struggles in the second half to establish why we should still care about Lawrence’s exploits. I think it is ultimately an underwritten piece that has dated far better than any other Rattigan. The
beginning on the second act feel so stale. I blame Adrian Noble because the chemistry between Fiennes and Allenby, played by Paul Freeman, is wonderful but you are never given to time to care about any of the characters, they appear and disappear suddenly with deaths of important characters happening off-stage.
The production’s biggest weakness is having wonderful actors like Nick Sampson and
Peter Polycarpou and giving them so little to do. There is simultaneously nothing and too much going on, for example the bare set contrasts with the video images used to distract from scene changes.
I will be surprised if this doesn’t transfer eventually but it isn’t the must see production I was hoping for.