The Reluctant Debutante (play)

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The Reluctant Debutante is a 1955 play by the British playwright William Douglas Home.

It was first performed (for a 'try-out' week) at the Theatre Royal Brighton after William Douglas-Home spotted the untrained 17-year-old actress Anna Massey and brought her in to audition for the title role.[1] After she wowed the Brighton audiences the play quickly transferred to the Cambridge Theatre, London on 24 May 1955, where it enjoyed a long run [2] with Wilfrid Hyde-White continuing to play the father and Celia Johnson the neurotic mother, Sheila Broadbent. The production was directed by Jack Minster.[3]

On 30 June 1955 MGM bought the film and stage rights to this hit London success [4] with the aim of taking it to Broadway.

In 1956 the play premièred on Broadway at the Henry Miller's Theatre with a mostly changed cast but still with Anna Massey in the lead and Wilfrid Hyde-White playing her father. [5]


The plot follows an aristocratic family through one of London's debutante seasons. It is a light-hearted, almost farcical comedy which revolves around the mother's deep anxiety and attempts to avoid scandal after she confuses two men (both called David) and accidentally sets up her daughter with 'David Hoylake-Johnston' (who has a reputation as a philanderer) instead of 'David Bulloch' (whom she believes to be the perfect match for her daughter).

The debutante season was designed for aristocratic parents to find well-connected potential suitors for their daughters by throwing (often very expensive) parties and inviting eligible bachelors. 'Sheila Broadbent', the mother of Jane (the eponymous 'Reluctant Debutante'), is terrified that her daughter will lose the chance to meet a good husband if there is a scandal - i.e. 'David Hoylake-Johnston' charming her into having sex, something he is rumoured to have done with other girls. But the rumours are only rumours so she cannot be rude to him, especially after she accidentally invites him to be Jane's date for the night.


Character 1955–6 UK production 1956–7 Broadway production 1958 movie 1966 ITV Play of the Week 2011 UK production
Jane Broadbent Anna Massey Sandra Dee Philippa Gail Louise Calf
Jimmy Broadbent Wilfrid Hyde-White Rex Harrison Leslie Phillips Clive Francis
Sheila Broadbent Celia Johnson Adrianne Allen Kay Kendall Joan Greenwood Jane Asher
David Hoylake-Johnston John Merivale John Saxon Paul Ferris Ed Cooper Clarke
David Bulloch Peter Myers David Cole Peter Myers Raymond Clarke Alex Felton
Mabel Crosswaite Ambrosine Phillpotts Brenda Forbes Angela Lansbury Georgina Cookson Belinda Lang
Clarrissa Crosswaite Anna Steele Christina Gillespie Diane Clare Anna Carteret Lucy May Barker
Mrs. Edgar Gwynne Whitby Renee Gadd Ambrosine Phillpotts Virginia Clay Andrea Miller


  1. ^ "St. Joseph Gazette - Google News Archive Search".
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 December 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Production of The Reluctant Debutante | Theatricalia".
  4. ^ "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Google News Archive Search".
  5. ^ "The Reluctant Debutante Original Broadway Cast - 1956 Broadway".

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