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A CurtainUp London Review
The Secret Rapture

What are good people for? They are here to help trashy people like me.
--- Katherine
The Secret Rapture
Belinda Lang as Marion French, Peter Egan as Tom French and Jenny Seagrove as Isobel Glass
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
It is a curious choice for a revival, David Hare's 1988 play The Secret Rapture. This was the play which drew a debate between New York Times critic Frank Rich and Hare himself in 1989. Hare replied in a retaliatory fashion to Rich's less than kind critique of the production directed by Hare and starring Hare's one time girl friend Blair Brown. Hare makes a habit of defending his plays against critics by attacking them rather than pretending he never reads them. Hare has called narcoleptic one of my colleagues, a man I have never seen asleep in the theatre (although I have seen some others nodding off). My own secret rapture was a fairly soporific experience so maybe the expletive narcoleptic wouldn't be too far off the mark in describing this critic on this occasion.

The play is based on the effects within a family of a totally good person. A man dies leaving two daughters -- greedy, grasping Marion (Belinda Lang), an up and coming Conservative Party politician and the saintly Isobel (Jenny Seagrove), a graphic designer -- and their step mother, his young widow Katherine (Liza Walker) with a drink problem. Isobel is persuaded by Marion to take alcoholic Katherine into her company and subsequently Katherine loses a major client by attacking him with a steak knife. Isobel's firm is subject to a take over and her co-designer and lover Irwin (Simon Shepherd) reacts badly. Despite her goodness, Isobel in some kind of unjustified karmic reversal loses everything, her company and her life.

The reference to secret rapture is the ecstasy felt by a nun at the moment of her death as she is received by God. The play is firmly set in the Thatcherite Eighties, the decade of the yuppies and no holds barred economic success. As such The Secret Rapture alternately makes us wince and laugh at the ambitious sister Marion and her husband, a curious born again business-man and Christian. Apparently his swimming pool is for baptism rather than hedonism.

The whole piece did not move me although my companion, a child of the Eighties, was interested in the conceptualisation of good and evil. Belinda Lang wears Marion's power suits and acts badly, that is to say she is badly behaved as she asset strips her sister's company.

The opening scene has Marion raiding her father's cupboard for a ring she had given him while his body is in the room. "Politics is being there every day," she tells us. Jenny Seagrove as the saintly Isobel has a challenging role. Her answer is to play it very slowly as if she is functioning on a different level to the rest of us poor mortals, which she may be. We are no nearer to understanding why she prefers the problematic Katherine to her partner and lover Irwin or why she succumbs to her sister's bullying tactics. Peter Egan, in a fine performance, makes us cringe as Marion's husband, the man who "tries to do business as Jesus would have done it". I suspect this is a pet beef of Hare's, Christian hypocrisy.

Guy Retallack gives us a good enough production and Robert Jones' sets slide on slickly to recreate the drawing office and homes of the 1980s. If you are a fan of David Hare's plays you may enjoy the conundrum, the complexity, the sheer inexplicability of The Secret Rapture. For this critic it didn't hit the spot, so no rapture here I'm afraid.

The Secret Rapture
Written by David Hare
Directed by Guy Retallack

Starring: Jenny Seagrove
With: Belinda Lang, Peter Egan, Liza Walker, Simon Shepherd, Melanie Gutteridge
Designer: Robert Jones
Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with one intervalOne hour thirty minutes without an interval.
Box Office: 0870 890 1107
Booking to 21st February 2004.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th November 2003 Performance at the Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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