First doe of Rattigan

Summer in Chichester represents a double first for Jonathan Hyde - his first time at the CFT, his first dose of Rattigan.

Given his wealth of theatrical experience down the years, both are firsts which perhaps come as something of a surprise.

“But it’s a big, big world,” laughs Jonathan whose screen credits include Titanic, Jumanji, The Mummy, The Contract, Deadly Advice and Caravaggio.

He comes to Chichester on the back of two years as Hook/Mr Darling in Peter Pan in a production which took him to Kensington Gardens Theatre, O2, San Francisco and Orange County.

“It was a tented production, but when I say tented this was a tent which cost £2.5 million!”

After 425 performances he called it a day, went into Spooks on TV and is now in Chichester, his first time here since a momentous trip in the early 1970s when his landlady asked him to take her yacht from Le Havre to Sussex - in a storm.

“We were nearly blown up the high street!”

Jonathan can expect slightly calmer waters with Rattigan’s Nijinsky, a piece which heralds two world premieres in one production, marking an intriguing meeting of playwrights.

In 1974 Rattigan wrote a television script for the BBC which was mysteriously withdrawn by the playwright himself and never produced, although he was proud of his work.

The script was about Diaghilev, genius impresario behind the Ballets Russes, and Nijinsky, the greatest dancer of all time.

Nicholas Wright’s new play depicts a dying Rattigan, who meets Nijinsky’s elderly widow, Romola, to fight over his beloved play. In the same room, and using Rattigan’s words, Diaghilev and the young Romola fight over the tormented Nijinsky.

In the new play, Romola objects strongly to the screenplay for its portrayal of Diaghilev and is prepared to take strong action: “She is threatening to expose Rattigan as a pervert, an old queen who gets what he deserves.”

Whether this was actually the reason for the screenplay’s withdrawal, Jonathan is not sure: “I would like to say that it is not just conjecture,” says Jonathan, who plays Diaghilev/Cedric.

“But Rattigan was a very ill man at the time. His cancer had moved into his marrow and he was on painkillers. As he takes these drugs in the course of the play, the high that he gets from the drugs summons the world of the Ballets Russes and brings his screenplay to life...”

The play comes as part of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s festival within a festival marking the centenary of Rattigan’s birth. Rattigan’s Nijinsky runs until September 3; Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea runs until September 3.