Tag Archives: Noël Coward

Noël & Gertie
reviewed in Basildon on 8 March

Sheridan Morley’s own definition of his Noël Coward compilation was “an entertainment”. It draws on a variety of material from Coward’s plays, sketches, lyrics and autobiography to tell the story of the loving – if occasionally acerbic – professional and personal relationship between Gertrude Lawrence and himself.

Matthew Townshend’s production is based on the one he staged at Frinton’s summer theatre three years ago. With Helen Power as Lawrence and Ben Stocks as Coward, we are taken back to the developing worlds of 1920s and 30s theatre, including music-hall, revues and musical comedies as well as the plays which are probably Coward’s most lasting legacy.

Both Power and Stock are experienced solo performers. She has a good, sweet voice ideal for “Parisian pierrot” and “I’ll see you again”. She dances imogen Fraser’s choreography well, while he knows how to put over a one-liner as well as sustaining dialogue and giving a stand-alone number such as “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington” the proper cumulative bite.

The set by Martin Robinson adapts easily between the stars’ dressing-room and the variety of different stages on which they played. Stage managers Alyssa Tuck and Ashleigh German double as dressers and scene shifters as required by the flow of the narrative.

Still Life, one of the Tonight at 8.30 playlets is best known now through its filmed adaptation as Brief Encounter. It makes an impact with the excerpt given in this production, as does part of the opening scene of Private Lives and the famous Red Peppers sketch with its squabbling husband and wife team whose variety act is no longer as crisp and funny as it once was.

For me, the weak link in the programme is pianist Jonathan Lee, who’s much too loud and attacks the music without the throw-away insouciance which is the hallmark of Coward’s compositions. The Towngate Theatre is perhaps not the ideal venue in which to stage Morley’s entertainment, which may have led to a degree of over-compensation in sound management.

Noël & Gertie can also be seen at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe on 24-25 March, the Brookside Theatre, Romford on 7 April, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 11 and 12 April and the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 3 and 4 May as part of a national tour which extends to 13 May.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Present Laughter

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre Cambridge on 25 July)

One of Noël Coward’s greatest strengths as a writer was his ability to recognise his self-created image for the theatrical construction that it was. Of all the plays he wrote and starred in during the 30s and 40s, Present Laughter most epitomises this. Stephen Unwin’s new production for the Theatre Royal Bath is heading for the West End – and you can see why.

Designer Simon Higlett gives us a marvellously cluttered living-room set with a spiral staircase corkscrewing its way up to the landing dominated by a flattering portrait of ageing matinée idol Garry Essendine (Samuel West). The women’s costumes have just the right period appearance, from Liz Essendine Rebecca Johnson)’s halo hat to Joanna Lyppiatt (Zoe Boyle)’s slinky velvet evening-dress in malevolent dark green.

If West is the star of the show, with a nice line in self-admiration balanced with a sense of his own perpetual posturing, the female actors all make their mark. Phyllis Logan is the crisp secretary Monica Reed, a woman who has seen it all before and who has no intention of playing up to her boss’s moods and tantrums. Johnson’s cool and collected Liz is offset by Boyle’s Joanna, a ruthless predator in pursuit of her own pleasure; her extended second-act exchange with Garry is beautifully paced.

Patrick Walshe McBride is extremely funny as the clumsy would-be playwright fixated on the theatre of the future as the theatre of ideas. Theatre investor Henry Lypiatt and producer Morris Dixon provide Toby Longworth and Jason Morell with contrasting opportunities which they seize readily.

As starry-eyed debutante Daphne Stillington, Daisy Boulton begins the play as a mass of girlish illusions which have let her down by the end of the second act. Theatre and real life always seem to be on a collision course.

Present Laughter runs at the Arts Theatre Cambridge until 30 July with matinées on 28 and 30 July.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Private Lives

(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 25 May)

Noël Coward’s 1930 comedy Private Lives is deceptively simple. The plot – a divorced couple finding themselves honeymooning with new spouses at the same hotel rekindle both their passion and the causes for the break-up – calls for the two main characters to dominate the stage, notably in the second act, while the subsidiary pair need to establish themselves just a forcibly but without tipping the balance.

In the event, Esther Richardson’s new production as part of the 2016 Made in Colchester season slightly perverts this. That’s because Krissi Bohn’s bright and brittle Amanda has the perfect foil in Olivia onyehara’s steely fluff of a Sybil. It’s easy to visualise this Amanda as the fast-set darling, sparkling in drawing-rooms and cocktail bars. Sara Perks has given her costumes which are right for the period and which subtly reflect the photographs of Gertrude Lawrence (who created the role).

Sybil wears pink – soft, pleated and tending towards the feathery. From Onyehara’s first entrance, preening as though a society photographer was lurking on the balcony, she gives an impression that this kitten has teeth as well as claws. That’s something which Robin Kingsland’s Victor discovers as they set off in pursuit of their errant mates.

Kingsland puts great sincerity into his Paris exchange with Amanda; this is one of those moments when both author and director lift the veil of frivolity to suggest that these are real people, who can feel real hurt. Pete Ashmore’s Elyot has a touch of petulance about him, whih slips dangerously near to being camp; those 40 minutes in Act Two when Amanda and Elyot are fired with all their previous feelings with each other never quite sustained themselves.

The maid for Amanda’s Paris flat is one of those cough-and-a-spit parts which provide the right actress with a chance to steal the show. Christine Absalom, a Mercury audience favourite, does just that in the third act, earning herself several rounds of applause. Adam P McCready’s sound design and original score (which incorporates snatches of Coward’s own music) adds to the atmosphere.

Private Lives runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 4 June with matinées on 26 and 28 May, 2 and 4 June.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Summer seaside theatre – preview 2

Tucked away on the north Norfolk coast between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Cromer (think of all those delicious crabs and lobsters for which this stretch of coast is renowned) is Sheringham. Under Debbie Thompson its Little Theatre is a thriving concern, though suffering from the usual funding crises.

The programme for this year’s summer repertory season has been announced. It was preceded between 1 and 6 June by a fund-raising production – most appropriately – of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The 55th summer season itself opens on 21 July with Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, directed by theatre patron Desmond Barrit; the cast includes Paul Lavers. That runs until 28 July.

Between 30 July and 5 August the mood changes with that classic thriller The Late Edwina Black, a wife who seeks revenge from beyond her deathbed. Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce from 7 to 18 August is directed by another of the theatre’s patrons, Nicky Henson. The comedy Perfect Wedding by Robin Hawdon is the penultimate production between 20 and 29 August.

Another classic, Noël Coward’s Private Lives, brings the summer season at the Little Theatre to a close from 1 to 5 September. It is directed by the third of the theatre’s patrons Peter Craze.

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Filed under Reviews 2015