Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Adrian Noble
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
Sometimes you go to the theatre to see an actor at the top of his game; there is one playing Ross at Chichester at the moment. Sometimes you go to see a talented cast combining to produce an all-round team performance; there is just such an opportunity in Chichester’s production of Ross this month. Sometimes a well-created play or an inspired piece of directing catches the eye; Ross at Chichester fits this bill. Sometimes the venue itself is worth a visit; Chichester Festival Theatre both inside and out is a super place to visit especially on a warm summer evening. Indeed, there can’t be many (if any) boxes, that describe the different reasons why an audience is prepared to spend three hours in a darkened room, that the current Festival Theatre offering does not tick. It is a splendid evening’s theatre.
The actor in question is Joseph Fiennes whose portrayal of the enigmatic character that was T.E. Lawrence, pointing up all the qualities that baffled, irritated and of course inspired those that came into contact with him, is itself inspiring. Whatever else you may think of them, Rattigan’s plays are well crafted and thus Fiennes and director Adrian Noble, have good material to weave their magic upon. Noble’s use of that splendid space that is the Chichester stage, with all its trickery and its impression of size and space which is brilliantly evocative of both the ‘Empty Quarter’ and the London RAF Depot in one fell swoop, owes much to William Dudley’s design and the combined talents of his lighting, music and sound creative team of Paul Pyant, Mia Soteriou and Paul Groothuis.
But Noble stamps his own mark on this well-known and often unbelievable story of the physically unprepossessing and militarily untrained foreign office map maker who, virtually single-handedly, altered the course of the first world war in the Middle East with a display of willpower, tactical astuteness and physical endurance that made him an international hero in the West and a legendary figure in the Desert. Not least he uses his cast as a true team. There are strong performances by them all, particularly Paul Freeman as Allenby and Peter Polycarpou as Sheik Auda Abu Tayi, and the company combines to create a whole capable of countering Fiennes’ domination of the piece. Noble also brings out the humour to balance the play’s darker side and there is a surprising amount of mirth on offer, from the repartee in the barracks to Lawrence’s debunking of authority, which lightens what might otherwise be too intense a tale.
Who knows what Lawrence of Arabia was really like, what motivated him, what drove him on to those spectacular achievements or indeed the veracity of some of those accounts. But it is a cracking story and this production at Chichester should inspire adventurers and theatre-goers alike.
Runs until 24June 2016 | Image: Jonan Persson