The first major revival of Terence Rattigan's last play, Cause Celebre, will open next week at fringe venue the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in west London.
Based on a true story from 1930s England, Cause Celebre follows the murder trial of 38-year-old Alma Rattenbury and her 18-year-old lover. Married to a man 30 years her senior, Alma placed an ad in her local newspaper for a 'daily willing lad, 14-18, for housework'. Within a month, she and her new employee were lovers, and within a year they were in the dock of the Old Bailey court, on trial for the murder of Alma's husband.
Both claimed the other was innocent, but fuelled by the media frenzy surrounding the trial, the 'Great British public' decided that no married woman who took a teenage lover could go unpunished. Rattigan reveals the events of the murder and trial through the eyes of two very different observers - Alma herself and Edith Davenport, forewoman of the jury, whose prejudices are challenged by the unfolding events.
Though set in the 1930s, Rattigan wrote the script in 1976 when he knew he was dying. Feeling that he had nothing to lose, he wrote an incredibly frank play to expose the destruction of lives by English hypocrisy - in a more savage fashion than any of his earlier work. Rattigan died in Bermuda shortly after the premiere of Cause Celebre in the West End.
Neil Bartlett directs the 14-strong cast. Design is by Rae Smith and lighting by Chris Davey. Cause Celebre runs from 5 February to 4 April 1998. Call the Lyric box office on 44-181-741-2311 for further information. --By Terri Paddock
What's On Stage, London