While The Sun Shines runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until July 30.

“IS this month Noel Coward as well?” my baffled partner whispered into my ear as a case of mistaken identity unfolded to a flurry of cackles from the audience.

“No it’s Terence Rattigan,” I batted him away – quite puzzled myself at how quickly the play had descended into pure, unadulterated farce (and a finely crafted one at that).

I must admit, when I first saw the play hailed as ‘hilarious’ in promotional material, I took the praise with a pinch of salt.

For us heathens with only limited exposure to Rattigan’s work via the more sombre and subdued The Deep Blue Sea and Flare Path, Terence Rattigan had been firmly relegated to the serious night of theatre category. And we were braced for thoughtful, affecting, cerebral theatre – the kind that makes you furrow your brow in concentration, not giggle so hard you send your programme flying at your neighbour’s feet.

Yes, the plays mentioned above undoubtedly have their moments of lightness and touches of humour, mainly thanks to a posse of quaint secondary characters, but in While The Sun Shines Rattigan pushes his knack for droll remarks, impertinent one-liners and comedic timing into a different sphere altogether. And yes, just a few weeks after a revival of Present Laughter at the Theatre Royal Bath it did whiff of Noel Coward.

But now for the plot: on the eve of his marriage to the beautiful Lady Elizabeth Randall, the Earl of Harpenden (aka Bobby) makes the mistake of allowing a drunken American Lieutenant to spend the night in his Albany apartment.

Things go awry the following morning when the Earl arranges a little female company for his guest in the form of Mabel Crum, a former girlfriend with a penchant for Americans or any man her way inclined ...but it is his fiancée, Elizabeth, who turns up at the flat.

Add into the mix Colbert, a young French officer who also fancies his chances with Elizabeth, her garrulous father - an inveterate gambler - and the stage is all set for confusion, and half-hearted (for some) squabbling over the young woman’s heart.

While farcical scenes are rife, what perhaps sets While The Sun Shines apart from a typical Coward play is the political and social subtext. Characters tease the Earl and his dying class, while hints of women’s emancipation and post-war change are peppered throughout. Although they seek love and financial security, female protagonists don’t exactly fall into traditional categories, with one as sexually liberated as they come and firmly unapologetic about it and the other working as a corporal for the war effort.

More complex than first meets the eye, this is a behemoth of a play and hitting the right balance between caricatures and fleshed out characters was a task and a half – which the cast took on beautifully.

Special mention must be paid to Rob Heaps, who plays the laidback and rather laissez- faire young Earl with an enchanted life, but more depth than perhaps others give him credit for.

Michael Cochrane’s endearing portrayal of Elizabeth’s father and comic timing are spot on.

As for Nicholas Bishop, his French accent was so flawless I believed he was a native through the entire performance – until the programme set me right.

In this flurry of crossed-wires and mistaken identities Rattigan shows himself as a versatile writer and farceur. For those who have only caught his darker works, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. - Marion Sauvebois