"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Oldham Coliseum Theatre and Harrogate Theatre, in association with Anvil Arts, at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester for The Public Reviews
until March 19th
then at the Haymarket Basingstoke, March 22nd to 26th
This Northern Coward is not the Manchester in-the-round experiment, but a much more predictable staging which started life in the Coliseum Oldham, and arrived at the Mercury by way of Harrogate.
And hugely enjoyable it proved.
Beautiful period costumes, two lovely contrasting sets [Michael Holt] – the balconies of the Deauville hotel, light and Art Deco, with the kind of curtains that billow, and the plush fin-de-siècle flat in the rue Montaigne, with its grand piano, divans and cabinet phonograph. And performances that were just as stylish, directed with affection and a practised hand by Robin Herford.
Noel Coward wrote the play in less than a week, with himself in mind of course for the peach of a part that is Elyot Chase. James Simmons' Elyot had clearly been around a bit, with his co-respondent shoes, his lived-in face and his wry cynicism. He timed the bons mots to perfection, and, like his Amanda, had an elegance of gesture which suited the period. Jackie Morrison played Amanda with superb sophistication and endearing honesty – the kitten marked for tragedy. Her voice was absolutely right, and she sang the snatches of Coward wonderfully. These two actors played very well together - I loved the recognition scene, and the domestic intimacy of the pyjama-clad tête-à-tête in Act Two. Their enforced silences were very imaginatively handled, and the famous fight was painfully physical – fight director Renny Krupinski.
Their new spouses, younger, with much to learn about the ways of the world and the foibles of the idle rich, were Maeve Larkin as a pretty little Sybil, not lacking in spirit, and Christopher Naylor as a tweedy, Woosterish Victor. The exasperated domestique was nicely suggested by Tess Alshibaya.
Music is key to the piece – Coward wrote Someday I'll Find You specially for the first production – and both piano and gramophone were effectively used [MD Howard Gray]. Not so sure about the “cheap music” in Act One: it sounded more like Mantovani than the house band at the Hotel Royal. And the sound-scape had the disconcerting effect of placing the audience in the middle of the marina.
This is not exactly a ground-breaking production, but the cast are always convincing and spark off each other brilliantly, breathing new life into these familiar lines, never resorting to cliché or pastiche. The Master's brittle wit is well served in a constantly entertaining couple of hours.