by Noel Coward.
Rose Theatre 24-26 High Street KT1 1HL To 23 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 23 Oct 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1pm).
Captioned 20 Oct.
Runs 2hr 30min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 0871 230 1552.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 September.
Colourful Coward revival.
Talk of a Coward’s revenge. When the new drama erupted during the 1950s, Noel Coward stood for everything to be discarded. Yet now his best-known plays are more often seen than the works of the Angry brigade put together. Private Lives are repeatedly probed, while there are enough bouts of Hay Fever to come close to a pandemic. Many have a particular strength – a Judith in Leeds, a Jackie in Chichester, a Manchester Sorel, and so on.
But what’s chiefly needed is a director who doesn’t muck about with a perfectly-formed comedy. Rose boss and production director Stephen Unwin is a prime non-mucker about, playing scripts intelligently yet straight. There’s no weak performance here, and some particularly fine. Unwin also pays attention to visual detail, designer Simon Higlett providing a traditional country house with gallery and a fine view over a splendid-looking lake.
Paul Pyant’s lighting gives the scene a sunny radiance, or romantic moonlight, the view muted only to create (with John Leoanrd’s soundscape) the damp depression of rain during a truncated weekend chez Bliss, where a quartet of varied visitors are buffeted by the artistic family’s self-absorption. After a rather deliberately-paced opening, the action reaches a fine comic pace for the central Saturday night’s fevered madness, and the calmer surface of the morning-after last act.
Among the Bliss family, Georgia Maguire’s Sorel successfully straddles being one of the clan with her desire for ‘normality’, while Stephen Boxer’s thoughtful manner provides a contrast for novelist father David, until his temper flares. Among the guests, Sam Swainsbury gives Sandy comic clarity, while Adrian Lukis presents a richly-detailed picture of a career diplomat whose tact faces new challenges. His mix of responsiveness and silkily confidence covering boredom contrasts with awkward moments when it’s clear the surface manner conceals nerves frazzled by the need for eternal politeness amid near-panic.
Celia Imrie’s Judith receives loud laughs for her big moments, but is most effective when more composed. Will the very different Nichola McAuliffe give the production a shot in the arm, a sock on the jaw, or merely a shock to the system?
Judith Bliss: Celia Imrie (to 9 Oct)/Nichola McAuliffe (from 11 Oct).
David Bliss: Stephen Boxer.
Sorel Bliss: Georgia Maguire.
Simon Bliss: Joshua McGuire.
Myra Arundel: Alexandra Gilbreath.
Ruchard Greatham: Adrian Lukis.
Jackie Coryton: Holly Jones.
Sandy Tyrrell: Sam Swainsbury.
Clara: Katy Secombe.
Director: Stephen Unwin.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: John Leonard.
Music: Corin Buckeridge.
Costume: Mia Flodquist.
Assistant director: Sophie Lifschutz.
Associate designer: Geraldine Bunzl.