Rattigan’s Nijinsky at Chichester Festival Theatre

Tom Chambers as  Bobby and company in Crazy For You. Picture by Richard Davenport

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What a bewildering and bewitching concoction this is – a play by Nicholas Wright based on a Terence Rattigan screenplay about ballet dancer Vaclav Nijinsky, and featuring Rattigan himself.

The new work’s leaps of time and place are as sudden, extreme and dramatic as those of the Ballets Russes for which Nijinsky was leading dancer at the time Stravinsky was composing his most famous music.

That music happily and hypnotically punctuates the action, but what Wright essentially does is offer an explanation for the fact the proposed film was never made.

His work, directed with wit and energy by Philip Franks, is essentially a richly entertaining study of artistic temperaments and attitudes to homosexuality in the early and mid 20th century.

Rattigan’s own fear of exposure is highlighted, although the play comically suggests his mother was the only person unaware of it.

Wright and actor Malcolm Sinclair make Rattigan a complex figure – distinguished yet sad, bitter and frightened.

Bravura performances comes from Joseph Drake as an entirely credible Nijinsky, Jonathan Hyde as the ever-controlling choreographer, Diaghilev, and Faye Castelow and Susan Tracy as Romola Nijinsky in beautiful youth and battling old age respectively.

A single set by Mike Britton combines period elegance and endless practicality.

The production is in repertoire with Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea until September 3.

MIKE ALLEN