The Rat Trap
The Rat Trap (1918) is a four-act drama by Noël Coward, his 'first really serious attempt at psychological conflict', written when he was only 18.
In his 1937 memoirs, Present Indicative, he admits that as 'a whole it was immature, but it was much steadier than anything I had done hitherto...when I had finished it, I felt, for the first time with genuine conviction, that I could really write plays.'
It was first performed on 18 October 1926, for 12 performances at the Everyman Theatre, Hampstead, in London, presented by George Carr (who also directed), Raymond Massey (who also played a supporting role), and Allan Wade. The production starred Robert Harris as Keld (an aspiring young playwright) and Joyce Kennedy as Sheila (a novelist, Keld's fiancée in Act I, his wife in the three subsequent acts). Strong support was given by Adrienne Allen as Ruby (an ambitious musical comedy actress), Mary Robson as Olive (Sheila's flatmate) and Clare Greet as Burrage (the laconic cook-housekeeper).
Coward later wrote: 'My first serious play, The Rat Trap, was produced at the Everyman Theatre while I was on the Olympic bound for New York, and so I never saw it...in spite of the effulgence of the cast, the play fizzled out at the end of its regulation two weeks. I was not particularly depressed about this; The Rat Trap was a dead love.'
The play was published in London by Ernest Benn in 1924 in volume 13 of the Contemporary British Dramatists series, and was republished by Heinemann in 1934 in Coward's Play Parade, Volume III. In his introduction Coward writes: 'It is not without merit. There is some excruciatingly sophisticated dialogue in the first act of which, at the time, I was inordinately proud. From the point of view of construction, it is not very good, except for the two principal quarrel scenes. The last act is an inconclusive shambles and is based on the sentimental and inaccurate assumption that the warring egos of the man and wife will simmer down into domestic bliss merely because the wife is about to have a dear little baby. I suppose I was sincere about this at the time, but I find it very hard to believe. I think it will only be interesting as a play to ardent students of my work, of which I hope there are several. I do not believe it has ever been done since its original production, even by amateurs, which is a pity, as I would love to see it.'
To date, the first and only professional revival of the play was presented at the Finborough Theatre, a London fringe venue in Fulham SW10, as part of its Forgotten Voices Season 2006, from 28 November to 23 December 2006, in a production directed by Tim Luscombe, which received universally good press notices. Gregory Finnegan and Catherine Hamilton played the leading roles, with veteran actress Heather Chasen giving a droll eye-catching performance as Burrage.
- An archived review of the Finborough revival can be found at the British Theatre Guide website.
- Michael Billington's review for The Guardian.