Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Julia Pattison
Theatre Correspondent
12:00 AM 12th February 2024

Separate Tables

Separate Tables
Photo: John Saunders.
Separate Tables Photo: John Saunders.
One of the many reasons longest-serving settlement committee member Helen Wilson chose to direct Terence Rattigan’s play c was that “women feature prominently: older women particularly. Even these days, this is a rarity.”

A good enough reason to revive this play, which had its premiere in London in 1954 and was hailed as a commercial success.

It was clear in the matinee performance I attended that the actors in YSCP’s presentation of Separate Tables have relished the opportunities this play has given them, with director Helen admitting to relating most of all to Miss Meacham’s independent spirit! This was a typical Rattigan play, a sympathetic, witty study of middle-class people in emotional distress.

Photo: John Saunders.
Photo: John Saunders.
Two tales of love and loss, Separate Tables was set in a shabby Bournemouth hotel in the 1950s, where guests, both permanent and transient, sat on separate tables, a formality that underlined the loneliness of these characters.

“Loneliness is a terrible thing," said Miss Cooper, the ever-diplomatic hotel manager (played with great sensitivity by Catherine Edge), and as the stories unfolded and you got to know more about the characters, it was evident that loneliness never ages and that the play was as relevant today as it was when it was written.

The studio was the perfect place to perform this iconic play, and we were like invisible guests in the dining room, listening to conversations. Linda Fletcher (Lady Matheson), Caroline Greenwood (Mrs Railton-Bell), and Marie-Louise Feeley (Miss Meacham) shone in their roles as the three older residents, with Matt Simpson portraying sad, retired schoolmaster Mr Fowler with great sensitivity. Young academics James Lee (Charles Stratton) and Nicola Holliday (Jean Tanner) added a frisson of forbidden fun to the frosty atmosphere in the dining room, with Jodie Fletcher delighting us all with her deadpan delivery and comic timing as moody Mabel, the waitress. Tension simmered between supposedly random guests, Mr Malcolm (ably portrayed by Chris Meadley) and sultry Mrs Shankland (played with both grace and passion by Molly Kay), as the truth of their association was slowly but surely revealed.

Paul French as Major Pollock
Photo: John Saunders.
Paul French as Major Pollock Photo: John Saunders.
In Act II, we met most of the characters again after eighteen months. The young academics now had a baby son, which added some comic relief as the plot followed the relationship between downtrodden young spinster daughter Miss Railton Bell (played with such conviction by Jess Murray, it was heartbreaking to watch at times) and retired Major Pollock (convincingly portrayed by Paul French).

As the other residents learned that Major Pollock was not all he seemed to be, there was some really thought-provoking conversation.

“This is a duty I hardly relish,“ said Mrs Railton-Bell, clearly showing that she was enjoying every moment as she invited the other residents to demand his eviction from the hotel.

Photo: John Saunders.
Photo: John Saunders.
All credit goes to the direction and to the cast. The finale was an absolute triumph, and you wanted to get up and cheer at the unexpected outcome. A play that gave real food for thought.

Separate Tables is on at The Studio, York Theatre Royal, until February 17th 2024