by Noel Coward
4 Stars ****
Richmond Theatre To 6 August (and touring)
The Green, Richmond
Richmond TW9 1QJ
Fri-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20 minutes One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 0208 871 7651
Review: Tom Aitken August 5.
Comedy or Tragicomedy? Strong performances.
The simplest way to present this play would be as a mildly outrageous comedy about Gary Essendine, a domineering male actor who is a consummate seducer of the many women who, one after another or simultaneously, attract his roving eye and hands.
It is an uproarious but also witty comedy. And, as Sheridan Morely insisted, Essendine is not presented merely as a portrait of Coward himself, with sexual preferences amended to suit the censor.
Samuel West’s Essendine is frequently taken aback by the reactions of those of his entourage who are not part of the theatrical world in the way that he is. Why do they think that his behaviour is not the natural way of the world? What is the point of sexual fidelity? Cannot other people behave as he does and just have a good time?
At the same time Essendine finds himself, when alone, wondering a little why people he likes and is entertained by sometimes seem disapproving?
It would certainly be going much too far to suggest that Essendine feels any guilt over his actions. Puzzlement is about as far as it goes. Nevertheless, puzzlement can be powerfully disconcerting and at moments we see this happening.
So it comes about that while watching what happens and is said on stage quite often produces outbursts of laughter and applause (it would be only fair to say that the audience of which I was part was having a riotously good time) it also produces moments when you almost (but not quite) feel sympathy for a man who seems to have pretty well everything he wants but is nevertheless not unambiguously happy.
There are no weak links in the cast of eleven. They all know exactly what they are doing and everybody has a moment or two centre stage, which, unsurprisingly, they relish.
Simon Higlett’s set is particularly impressive. As we enter we are greeted by the reception area of Essendine’s London apartment and office, from the floor of which a cage metal staircase led the way to an upper alcove with magnificent windows, outside the master bedroom. It was luxurious but fairly untidy, a symbol of much that goes on there.
Garry Essendine: Samuel West
Monica Reed: Phyllis Logan
Daphne Stillington: Daisy Boulton
Miss Erikson: Sally Tatum
Fred: Martin Hancock
Liz Essendine: Rebecca Johnson
Roland Maule: Patrick Walshe McBride
Henry Lypiatt: Toby Longworth
Morris Dixon: Jason Morell
Joanna Lyppiatt: Zoe Boyle
Lady Saltburn: Elizabeth Holland
Director: Stephen Unwin
Set: Simon Higlett
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Sound: John Leonard
Associate Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward
Casting Director: Ginny Schiller
8 Aug – 13 August
Theatre Royal Brighton
Festival Theatre Malvern
15 August- 20 August 2016