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Cause Célèbre at The Old Vic

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Event: -
Cause célèbre is a French term that translates to, as you probably guessed, something along the lines of 'famous cause'. But it means something a bit different: a controversial issue or incident that piques the public interest. And it's come to be used mostly in connection with juicy and/ or scandalous court cases. Which is what Cause Célèbre, the play by Terence Rattigan is about: the court case of a woman who went on trial with her 18 year old lover for the murder of her husband.

Anne-Marie Duff as Alma Rattenbury
Anne-Marie Duff as Alma Rattenbury
The woman's name was Alma Rattenbury and the story is a true one. She was a much younger second wife to a successful architect, and, used to a more exotic style of life than she was living when she moved to Bournemouth, she embarked on an affair with her 18 year old chauffeur, George Stoner, who ended up killing her husband. Although they both confessed to the murder at different times and were tried for it together, she was acquitted and he found guilty.

This play isn't just a re-enactment of the events of the incident and the trial though, its other protagonist is a fictitious juror in the trial, who's in the process of divorcing her own husband for his infidelities. These two female characters, and their very different attitudes to life, set against the backdrop of that particularly English brand of sexual puritanism, create an interesting juxtaposition between doing right and wrong and being right and wrong. Making this a play about our way of life and the way the choices that we make rather than just a set of events.

Anne-Marie Duff plays Mrs. Rattenbury with verve and tenderness – she's a wild one but how much was she to blame? And Niamh Cusack plays the juror with perfect prudery in this production by Thea Sharrock, who's one of 'the' London directors at the moment. So this is a layered and interesting production, of a layered and interesting play, based on a layered and interesting story.
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Why? This play is what theatre's all about.
When: Monday - Saturday 7:30, Wednesday & Saturday 2:30
Where: The Old Vic, The Cut, London SE1 8NB, nearest station Waterloo
Cost: £10 - £48.50
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