West End premiere of Noel Coward play, Volcano
Written in 1956, but never performed in Coward’s lifetime, Volcano tells the story of widow Adela Shelly (Jenny Seabrook) who finds herself the subject of a charm offensive by the predatory and destructive Guy Littleton (Jason Durr), as he visits the Pacific island where she lives on the side of a volcano. The arrival of her friend, Ellen (Perdita Avery), and Guy’s wife, Melissa (Dawn Steele), complicates matters and quickly brings the tensions of each relationship to breaking point, as the volcano rumbles menacingly in the background.
The play, which pushed the boundaries of the 50s with its overt discussion of sexual relationships, paints a picture of a post-war society on the cusp of immense change, yet it stands the test of time with its themes of jealousy, desire and relationship complexities. In particular, Coward displays sharp observation into the intricate workings of female relationships with some delightfully insightful dialogue, from the bond of deep friendship to thinly (and not so thinly) veiled territorial threats. To quote Littleton: “Women are terrifying bitches.” And terrifying they are, with Steele magnificently playing a formidable wife desperately trying to hold on to her husband, and in doing so, fighting a battle that even she knows isn’t worth the prize.
Unfortunately, a missing spark between Seabrook and Durr puts the play on a bit of a back foot to begin with. Seabrook was a little too frosty, a little too controlled, and not convincing in her desire for Durr. But things soon kick into gear when neighbours Grizelda and Robin Craigie join the party, brilliantly played by supporting actors Finty Williams and Robin Sebastian, who rather steal the show. Laced with humour and with a great twist, this is an engaging production of a play that will strike a chord with us all.
Volcano runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until 29th September. To book your tickets click here or call 0844 482 9675.