Even when you know it’s coming, Millie Crocker-Harris’ act of spite still takes your breath away - a pin-drop moment in director Angus Jackson’s superb production of The Browning Version.
After the dullness of The Deep Blue Sea in the main-house, here we see Rattigan at his absolute best - and with direction and performances to match.
Nicholas Farrell is deeply moving as the desiccated classics teacher who faces multiple humiliations as he is forced into semi-retirement after a career which fulfilled none of its promise.
And then an act of kindness seems to change everything. Farrell shows the man, so stiff and dignified, crack in the face of it - only to be shattered by the cruellest blow of all. Anna Chancellor is terrific as the wife, as unhappy as he is but with none of his restraint.
This is heavyweight, high-impact drama beautifully delivered - and inevitably it rather overshadows the night’s curtain-raiser, the world premiere of David Hare’s South Downs, written specifically as a new companion piece to go alongside Rattigan’s masterpiece.
Hare’s play is set in a similar public school in a similar era, but this time it’s a confused, vulnerable, lonely pupil (Alex Lawther) who’s on the receiving end of both kindness and cruelty in a piece shot through with wit and wisdom.
Just a shame that The Browning Version then so comprehensively sweeps it aside. Of course, South Downs is not there to compete - but you can’t help feeling its many delights warrant a slot of its own.
Excellent support comes from first-rate Chichester-area actors Jack Elliott and Bradley Hall, both very much talents to look out for.