Terence Rattigan was one of the most successful 20th century playwrights. His plays include Love in Idleness, Where The Sun Shines, The Winslow Boy, Separate Tables, and The Browning Version. At one time three of his plays were playing in West End Theatres that were adjacent to one another. He was a contemporary of Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward and his plays are frequently revived; several have been made into movies. Pacific Resident Theatre has revived The Browning Version. It is a brilliant production in all its many aspects.
The Browning Version is a relatively short 80 minutes. In those 80 minutes we are presented with a professor Andrew Crocker Harris who is being forced to retire after eighteen years in an English public school. In the course of the play we see the destruction of a human being.
First, the headmaster refuses to grant Crocker Harris a pension despite the fact that rules have been bent in the past for other retiring professors. The professor is a dry classical scholar whom the students make fun of and we meet one such student, Taplow, who is trying to get the teacher to advance him to the next grade. We also see him doing an impression of Crocker Harris which the professor witnesses. Later, the boy sees the professor in tears and sends him a translation of Aeschylus, the "Browning Version," to show his appreciation for the professor.
Meanwhile we find out his wife is having an affair with another teacher. She despises him and tells him that the boy’s gift is merely a bribe. All this is presented in continuous stage action. The result is a heartbreaking study of a human being in ruins. Rattigan capitalizes on the traditional "stiff upper lip" to show us the pain behind the mask. He also shows us a marriage in decay to devastating effect. Yet, the play is gentle, sympathetic, and beautifully written.