Sexual politics and swinging London

When Did You Last See My Mother – Trafalgar Studios, until 08 October. 

Written when he was 18 and produced for the Comedy Theatre two years later, When Did You Last See My Mother, marked Christopher Hampton’s explosive debut and meant that he was the youngest playwright of modern times to have a play staged in the West End. It opened to almost universally rapturous reviews and immediately propelled Hampton into the spotlight as a precocious new talent. After a career that includes The Philanthropist, Tales from Hollywood and the Oscar-winning screenplay for Dangerous Liaisons, When Did You Last See My Mother seems like it is from the distant past and almost unbelievably this new production at the Trafalgar Studios marks the first major revival of the play in the West End for almost 40 years.

Currently the West End appears to be in a period of looking to the past; we have seen a number of Rattigan revivals in his centenary year, The Kitchen has just opened at the National and the Donmar will soon be staging Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence. A reason behind these revivals is the belief that these three playwrights share an ability to create a universality of truth that can transcend the time when it was written; Rattigan finds his range across the spectrum of human emotion whilst Wesker’s masterpiece, The Kitchen, lays bare the individual within the machine.

To expect that a play written by an 18 year old will reach such a level of truth is unreasonable and there are moments when it is clear that Hampton is still finding his ear for dialogue; in particular Jimmy’s mother must deliver a couple of lines that suggest a playwright still finding his feet in giving voice to a mature women; interestingly a theme mirrored within the play. However this production is full of moments that touch on the sublime and show us glimpses of a master honing his art. More crucially, Hampton is very strong on the undercurrents of sexual identity and class envy that run through the play and still feel immediate and challenging to a modern audience. Review Continues Here

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