World premiere of lost Rattigan play

The cast of Hairspray

REVIEW: Hairspray at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Have your say

Full of mysterious unanswered questions, a legendary ballet dancer, and one angry wife, the world premiere of Rattigan’s Nijinsky is being performed at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

As part of a double production with The Deep Blue Sea, the play is based upon a television script Terence Rattigan wrote for the BBC in 1974 about Diaghilev, the man behind Ballet Russes and the greatest dancer of all time, Nijinsky.

However, the script was mysteriously withdrawn by Rattigan himself and was never published.

Today, playwright Nicholas Wright approaches the mystery, and imagines the dying Rattigan arguing with Nijinsky’s elderly widow Romola over the play. In the same room, using Rattigan’s original words, Diaghilev and a young Romola fight over Nijinsky.

The actor Jonathan Hyde, who has appeared in films such as Jumanji (1995), Titanic (1997), and King Lear (2008), plays Sergei Diaghilev and Cedric Messina in the production.

He says: ‘Rattigan was probably the greatest producer in the history of performing arts, and met anybody who was anybody. He was an aristocrat and had no social fears.

‘When you look at the list of people that were involved in Ballet Russes project, there was Coco Chanel to Picasso, and Diaghilev. It’s fascinating.

‘I’ve been playing a Russian guard in Spooks, which was very interesting to play a killer, and now I am a Russian queen. He is a fabulous character, and never did anything by halves. It’s really a triangular love story.’

Terence Rattigan is one of the most popular playwrights of the 20th century, creating his famous comedies and dramas just after World War Two; The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), and Separate Tables (1954). Today, his work has enjoyed a string of successful revivals, and he is heralded as a master of human emotion.

Jonathan adds: ‘Rehearsals are very exciting. We are discovering new things all the time and there is an awful lot of research, which is half the fun really. I love it.

‘I really love the way it weaves between the two worlds; the world of Rattigan and the world of the Ballet Russes. The walls break down, and we change location a lot throughout the story, from 1974 to 1919 Paris.

‘It really is a terrific company. You always hope they will be richly talented. I also love The Deep Blue Sea, and I look forward to doing the two in harmony.’

Although originally from Brisbane, Australia and currently living in London, Jonathan has visited the area before.

He says: ‘I’ve been Chichester twice before, when I was asked to help crew a yacht across the Channel, in which we nearly ran into Chichester I think. The other was in the Seventies. I am just really looking forward to it. Especially with plays like The Syndicate, it seems like a real roller of a season.

Actor Malcolm Sinclair, who has starred in V for Vendetta (2005) and Casino Royale (2006) plays Terence Rattigan.

Tickets: £13 - £35 Chichester Festival Theatre, (012) 4378 1312 or