Rattenbury murder play at Old VIc

When Terence Rattigan died in 1977 he had two plays running in London’s West End and both were set in Bournemouth.

One was Separate Tables which he had written in 1954. The second was his new and last play Cause Celebre which he had written in Bermuda.

Now Cause Celebre has been revived this year at The Old Vic in London for the centenary of Rattigan’s birth.

The play is based on the murder of architect Francis Rattenbury which took place in Manor Road in 1934 and made national headlines. A sensational trial of his young wife Alma and the chauffeur at the Old Bailey the following year was followed days later by the news that the acquitted wife had committed suicide at Christchurch.

The chauffeur George Stoner was sentenced to death but this was changed to prison after Almer’s death and he later returned to Bournemouth.

Rattigan contemplated a play about this case in the 1930s but did not do so until asked to write a radio play twenty years later.

The new production at the Old Vic, just yards from the Bournemouth trains at Waterloo, is full of references to the town with even a mention of the ‘Bournemouth Echo’. The telephone box outside the house gets a mention.

There is a cast of twenty-one with Anne-Marie Duff giving a fine performance as Alma as she has to switch from court room anguish back to her drunken flirtatious behaviour on the murder night.

The two and a half hour play, including interval, is fast moving with just the highlights of the court exchanges to maintain interest.

Pictures in the programme include one of the Rattenbury family on the beach at Bournemouth with the nanny and another shows the queue for the public gallery at the trial.

It would be good if this play could transfer to The Pavilion where Rattigan’s work has been staged before.

See page 126 for the Rattenbury and Rattigan entries.

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