The Browning Version is the play that cemented Terence Rattigan’s reputation as a serious, mature playwright. It is viewed as one of his best works, and one of the best one-acts ever written. First performed at the Phoenix Theatre, London, England, on September 8, 1948, The Browning Version was coupled with another one-act by Rattigan entitled Harlequinade under the umbrella name, Playbill. This show ran for 245 performances, and Rattigan received the Ellen Terry Award for The Browning Version, his second. (The first was won two years earlier for The Winslow Boy.)
The Browning Version made its New York debut with Harlequinade on October 12, 1949, but only ran for sixty-two performances. While praise from British audiences and critics was nearly universal when the play was performed in England, American critics were generally not as kind to the Broadway version, perhaps due to the subject matter.
The Browning Version concerns the life of Andrew Crocker-Harris, a classics schoolmaster at a British public school. Andrew is disliked by his unfaithful wife Millie, his colleagues, and his students. Rattigan based the character and the story of The Browning Version on a classics master he had at school as a student.
The Browning Version is sometimes derided for being too sentimental, but many critics draw a distinction between its sympathetic sentiment and overt sentimentalism. Most critics and scholars believe that Rattigan’s skills as a playwright transcend such problems. Though only a one-act play, The Browning Version is a well-crafted and complete psychological study, indicative of his future direction as a playwright.
As John Russell Taylor writes in The Rise and Fall of the Well-Made Play, ‘‘The Browning Version, as well as being at once Rattigan’s tightest and most natural-seeming construction job up then and his most deeply felt play, marks the beginning of his most distinctive and personal drama.’’