Dark comedy is compelling

In Praise of Love, Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth. On until Saturday (March 9). Box office: 01926 856548

WHEN people talk about Terence Rattigan, it conjures up a picture of middle class characters with a code of honour and suppressed emotions.

In Praise of Love is quite different. Its central character, Lydia, is an outsider, an Estonian who has endured the Nazi and Russian occupations and the death camps. Having survived these atrocities, she finds out at the beginning of the play that she has a terminal illness.

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Rattigan fell out of favour after the rise of ‘kitchen sink’ drama in the 1950s, but while Look Back in Anger seems trite and dated, John Dawson’s production of In Praise of Love is utterly compelling.

Lydia’s husband Sebastian, an outrageous, bombastic middle aged Marxist, is a far more complex figure than Jimmy Porter. Played by Andrew Bayliss he infuriates and charms in equal measure.

However he is not the only man in Lydia’s life. As the play unfolds we discover she has a strong and enduring love for Mark, a fellow Estonian.

Played by John Francis, he is the consummate diplomat keeping the balance between husband and wife perfectly poised so disaster is averted.

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There is a certain topicality to the play too. The son Joey is a Liberal who has been parachuted into a constituency to whip up support in a key by-election.

While Sebastian rails against the young man’s milk and water politics, Lydia is fiercely proud of his burgeoning career as a TV dramatist.

Damian Story was very strong in his portrayal of the son who yearns for recognition from his father but is terrified of being steam-rollered by him.

At the centre of the web of intrigue is Lydia, passionate, brave and quite manipulative. Totally devoted to the husband who saved her and brought her to England, she even plans a future for him after her death.

Linda Connor’s performance was darkly comic and unsentimental.