REVIEW: Ross by Terence Rattigan at Chichester Festival Theatre

Joseph Fiennes as T.E. Lawrence. Photo by Johan Persson

Joseph Fiennes as T.E. Lawrence. Photo by Johan Persson

Lawrence of Arabia - the subject of Rattigan’s sweeping drama - may have endured many miseries in the desert.

But it is doubtful any could quite equal the dull ache of tedium of the first half of this latest production.

Lengthy, confused, and inconsistent it seems to lack the clarity and sharpness of a great piece of drama.

And yet despite - or perhaps because of this first hour and a half - Ross ultimately proves to be a mesmerising triumph.

The second half brings everything into focus; the characterisation develops into something rich, bold and powerful and Joseph Fiennes as the mercurial Lawrence suddenly grows to towering dramatic proportions.

When the final act was spent, the audience lept to their feet in an act of collective celebration - something that Chichester theatre-goes do far too rarely.

But Fiennes is truly magnificent - exacting not only the emotion but revealing the sheer complexity of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic heroes.

We sense not only the physical suffering of the battle but his brutal journey of self-discovery and realisation.

It’s tempting to say the first half should be shortened or reworked.

The truth is, it sets the scene more cunningly than any observer could imagine.

Without it the second half would lack context.

With it - and the support of a terrific all round cast - it gives us one of the theatre’s genuine highlights.