Celebrated playwright Terence Rattigan obviously had a handle on what it means to be lonely – and maybe even an outlier – as well as the extraordinary measures someone might go through to connect with another. As a gay writer at a time when being gay was not okay, Rattigan set his tale in post-World War II England. SEPARATE TABLES premiered in London in September 1954 and met with commercial success (728 performances) before crossing the Atlantic to New York in 1956, where performer Margaret Leighton won a Tony for Best Actress. SEPARATE TABLES became a popular film in 1958, starring Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Burt Lancaster, and Claire Bloom. Terence Rattigan went on to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1971.
Actually, SEPARATE TABLES is really two one-act plays joined by the mutual pain of loneliness: “Table by the Window” (Act I) and “Table Number 7” (Act II). Both take place in the Beauregard residential hotel in Bournemouth, a town on the southern seacoast of England. The two acts of the play are set months apart with the same group of hotel residents. However, they focus on different characters experiencing a frantic need to reach out to someone else.
“Table by the Window” tells of Mr. Malcolm (Adrian Neil), a once-rising British politician and now an inveterate drunk, who lost everything after he was sent to prison for beating his wife Anne (Susan Priver). And here she is in Bournemouth. After divorcing Mr. Malcolm and remarrying and divorcing her second husband, she is desperately lonely and hopes to reconcile with her ex-husband. Did I forget to mention that his current mistress, Miss Cooper (Diana Angelina), is the manager of the hotel?
“Table Number 7” explores the dynamics between Sybil Railton-Bell (Roslyn Cohn) and Major Pollack (David Hunt Stafford), another hotel resident. Sybil is a repressed and miserable spinster who is firmly under the thumb of her domineering mother (Mona Lee Wylde). When the bogus Major, who has created a life for himself which never existed, is arrested for sexually harassing women in a dark movie theater, Mother Bell decides that he must be evicted from the hotel – and from her daughter’s life forever.
Award-winning director Jules Aaron has the pulse of the story and helms the production with skill and compassion. The able cast carefully defines each character and invites the audience to share in their pleasures, confusion, and pain. Jeff Rack’s set design draws the audience right into the post-war hotel ambiance, with costumes by Michele Young and makeup/wigs/hair design by Judi Lewin sealing the bargain. The entire production team does an awesome job of turning the stage into 1958.