A Naughty Night with Noël Coward at the Old Red Lion
Having utterly defined the preceding era, Noël Coward rather fell from the favour of post-war theatre audiences who found the bleak austerity of their own lives at odds with the decadence and frivolity that were the hallmarks of his work. As Britain struggles through a new grim economic climate in 2015, Proud Haddock (a fledgling theatre company with a boldly simple remit: to celebrate the great British playwrights) are gambling that the same decadence and frivolity might now be just what the doctor ordered. Framed with, and accompanied by, music from Tom Self’s piano, A Naughty Night with Noël Coward is a double-header of one-act Coward plays on the theme of marital affairs.
The first, We Were Dancing, is the tale of the intense love that spontaneously ignites at first sight between Louise (Lianne Harvey) and Karl (James Sindall) during a waltz at a club in a balmy colonial outpost. The immediate problem facing this star-crossed couple is that Louise’s husband Hubert (John MacCormick) is very much in attendance at the same soiree. The laughs come thick and fast, with perhaps the best deriving from Hubert’s politely affable contrition thanks to MacCormick’s perfectly poised stiff upper lip. As one might well expect from the character portrayed by Coward in person during the play’s original run, it’s not long before Mr Sandys is moved to song by the dizzying romance of it all, and with the titular ballad, Sindall conjures a croon that counterpoints the silliness of the action perfectly.
Following the neat transition of Oliver Daukes’ set from veranda to opulent bedroom interior, the scene is set for the second play. The Better Half was unpublished in Coward’s lifetime, and comprises a brief but ponderous study of a relationship under threat. In the fallout of a confession from Marion (Beth Eyre); David (Stephen Fawkes) and Alice (Tracey Pickup) battle over the marital moral high ground with increasing verbal dexterity and venom. Pickup does remarkably, bringing across a more complex and rounded character than has any right to exist in such a short piece, though with a wordier, weightier script in play (and with no break for song), there is a noticeable slowing of pace in this second half of the revue.
Coward himself described the concept of the short play as “having great advantage over a long one in that it can sustain a mood without technical creaking or padding”, and director Jimmy Walters has kept this concept at the fore of this production. Through the efforts of his company, A Naughty Night. provides audiences with two distinct tastes of a period in British theatre, each as refreshing and heady as a cocktail on a moonlit lawn, and each all the sweeter for its carefully measured brevity.
A Naughty Night with Noël Coward is on at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 29th August 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a behind the scenes feature on the show here:
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