Noel Coward: In His Own Words
Methuen Drama
ISBN: 9 781408 107584
RRP 7.99 (Paperback)

Review: Rod Dungate, 28 07 09

(A link to the book on Amazon is below).

A great pleasure to read.I’m tempted to say this is a delightful book – because it is. But that would be unfair; it’s value is greater than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps because, in one place, this collection encapsulates Coward’s life, Coward expert, Barry Day, reveals the many facets of The Man. Coward can be seen witty, thoughtful, basking in his celebrity, dealing with the decline in his celebrity, waspish, to some extent misogynistic and always, always as the great stylist.

Reading these snippets through, you get a sense of Coward calculatingly devising his words because he has an eye on the English Dictionary of Quotations. The sense is not disagreeable, in fact it brings a smile to your face at the man’s wickedness.

There is, at this time, a reappraisal of Coward’s work; the present trend is to play it less for style and more for substance. Always a conscious – and conscientious – stylist, Coward’s writings and sayings are consistently supported by thought and acute observation. This is true, even when you sense a bitterness creeping in: ‘I am becoming almighty sick of the Welfare State, sick of general ‘commonness’, sick of ugly voices, sick of bad manners and teenagers and debased values’ (Diaries 1963.) Perhaps this is truer now, at least in some aspects, than it was when he wrote it.

There is a smattering of advice to artists of various types. His notes on playwriting are to the point, but the following, on acting, flies wickedly in the face of received training: ‘Speak clearly, don’t bump into people and if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday.’ (1962)

There is a strong sense of a man living beyond the times in which he was comfortable, and this is touching. He writes against the emerging writers – Osborne, Wesker and so on – though came to admire Pinter. Typically, he encapsulates this in a wry comment: ‘ I cannot understand why the younger generation, instead of knocking at the door, should bash the fuck out of it’.

I am struck by the section on love; many lines are quoted from his lyrics and beneath an apparent sentimentality it’s possible to see a deeper, more meaningful, narrative: ‘You were there / Your eyes looked into mine and faltered / Everywhere / The colour of the whole world altered . . . (Shadow Play.)

Asked, in a late interview, to sum up his life in one word, he answered: ‘The answer is one word. Love.’

This is a truly delightful read. With one flaw; you’ll have to buy two copies, one to keep and one to give away . . . and that’s not much of a flaw is it.

Amazon link here . . .

2009-07-28 17:33:09

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