Liking the RSC's trailer for Henry IV parts 1 & 2
Review: Ballad of the Burning Star, Battersea Arts Centre

Review: Rachael Stirling in Variation on a Theme, Finborough Theatre


In all the Terrence Rattigan plays I've seen he's given his female characters a rough ride. And there is nothing wrong with that, it means good parts for women. He reminds me a little of Ibsen in that respect.

So there is a little irony in the title, Variation on a Theme, as the heroine of the piece, Rose (Rachael Stirling), has a rough time in love. Rose has married her way into society from a modest upbringing in Birmingham hanging out in the right places and using her good looks and charm. She has a seductive personality that is a mixture of classy confidence and good-time girl.

The play is set at her villa in Cannes. Her daughter Fiona (Rebecca Birch) is on holiday from her English boarding school and the two are looked after by Hettie (Susan Tracy), a duchess who is working off her gambling debts as housekeeper/companion.

Rose is due to marry for the fourth time. Her fiance is a german businessman Kurt (Phil Cheadle) who flashes his cash and is not ashamed of having made his millions profiting from war. She needs his money as her alomony payments are sporadic and he wants a trophy wife. But then she meets Ron (Martin McCreadie) a ballet dancer, seven years her junior who is a little seduced by the lifestyle of the rich living on the French Riviera and more than a little seduced by Rose.

They share a similar background but this isn't a simple love story, with Rattigan it is never going to be. Rose and Ron's love is at once constructive and destructive. It exposes the dark as well as the light sides of their personalities, a mixture of yearning and neediness that is both caring and suffocating. The choices they face about their relationship are life-changing.

Rachael Stirling is a beautifully tragic heroine quickly seducing the audience as well as the men in the play. Yes, her life has taken her a long way from her childhood to a world of luxury, comfort and fame but it is a fickle and superficial world and there is vacuum that can only be filled by a genuine feeling of love and being loved.

It is always such a treat to see her on stage but at the tiny Finborough Theatre it feels especially so. This is a play I can imagine with an impressively detailed production on a huge West End stage but designer Fontini Dimou has done a wonderful job in giving the Cannes-Villa terrace set  a scale and grandeur despite the confined space.

Great supporting performances too although Martin McCreadie did seem a little nervous but it was a preview so that can be easily forgiven.

Variation on a Theme is another Rattigan gem and I'm not sure why it has been a 50-year gap since the last production. It runs at the Finborough until March 22 but, not surprisingly, is sold out. It's an obvious candidate for a transfer to a bigger West End venue.


Rachael Stirling was in A Midsummer Night's Dream with Dame Judi Dench who was Alice to Mr W's Peter for Michael Grandage last year.

PS 2/3/14 just discovered a direct link. One Mr Harry Lloyd was in the audience the same night as Poly and I and he was in this photo shoot with Mr W as was Rachael Stirling.