Terence Rattigan’s 1943 comedy While the Sun Shines was his most popular play, but it has been neglected in the decades since. Evidently its light-hearted insouciance appealed to wartime audiences looking for an escape from the Blitz. At Orange Tree Theatre, a revival of the brilliantly constructed piece shows that its period charm and wit still entertain today.
It’s a story of mistaken identities and romantic entanglements. The young Earl of Harpenden (“Bobby”), an ordinary seaman, is due to marry Lady Elisabeth Randall the next day. But American airman Joe Mulvaney, whom he is putting up in his flat after a drunken night, makes a play for his fiancée, supposing her to be Bobby’s old flame Mabel Crum. Meanwhile after meeting her on the train to London, Free French lieutenant Colbert has declared a “white hot passion” for Elisabeth.
The play is a soufflé of a rom-com, with a surprisingly risqué approach to sexual liaisons (including homoerotic undertones). This reflects the suspension of the usual conventions and inhibitions during the war, as people mingled more and made hay while the sun shone. The characters wear uniform, and there are references to the blackout, anti-aircraft searchlights and rationing, though this is just a backdrop to a farce in which the men are allies in war but rivals in love.
Paul Miller directs with a deft touch, while Simon Daw’s elegant chandelier-adorned design suggests the Georgian Albany apartment in Piccadilly.
Based on amusing national stereotypes, Philip Labey is the camp, laid-back Bobby, Julian Moore-Cook the macho, have-a-go Joe, and Jordan Mifsúd the posturing romantic Colbert. Sabrina Bartlett is a deliciously naïve Elisabeth, while Dorothea Myer-Bennett is very funny as the sassy Mabel who is more than a match for the men.
While the Sun Shines , Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond TW9 2SA. Tickets £25, until 27 July 2019.
Last Updated 12 June 2019