PRIVATES ON PARADE
by Peter Nichols.
Noel Coward Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4AU To 2 Marc h 2013.
Audio-described 9 February 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 23 February 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5141.
NB £10 tickets available daily from 10.30a.m. purchased in person from the Box Office, max 2 tickets per person. Also £10 standing tickets available each day when sold out.
Review: Carole Woddis 11 December.
Much to savour, if ever so slightly dated.
Anyone needing to come to grips with that odd thing, the English sense of humour might do well to look no further than Peter Nichols’ 1977 Privates on Parade. Based on his own experiences as a National Serviceman in the Far East, it deploys a typically subversive mix of variety and sly satire to show the madness, eccentricity and sad futility of a dying British empire.
Full of strange `Polari’ slang, innuendo and asides, from the ashes of the entertainment branches that sprang up – ENSA during WWII and post-war CSE, Combined Services Entertainment – you can follow a direct line into British variety and the stars who became household names such as Stanley Baxter, Jimmy Edwards, Harry Secombe and indelibly Kenneth Williams. Within the tutelage of CSE, they received a first class education in camp, playing up, and surviving in hideously unsympathetic surroundings.
Such it is in Privates on Parades; we see a motley group of characters, led by drag artiste Capt Terri Dennis, rehearsing to entertain the troops during the 1948 Malayan `emergency’.
In a role previously played by Dennis Quilley and Roger Allam, Simon Russell Beale seems not altogether at home with Terri’s series of buttressed frocks but renders Dennis King’s wonderful pastiche Dietrich, Vera Lynn, Carmen Miranda and Noel Coward songs with great aplomb and style.
Around him, for this inaugural production of an excitingly ambitious 15-month West End season, Michael Grandage has gathered a terrific group for Terri’s colleagues: gangly National Service innocents, a bullying Sergeant-Major and Angus Wright’s slightly terrifying Major Flack with the vision of saving Malaya from itself in the name of Christianity and the British flag.
With its songs, sketches and monologues, Privates on Parade now seems a bit of a hotch-potch and ever-so-slightly dated, which is strange considering that Nichols’ point regarding British forces’ involvement in foreign parts has lost nothing in the intervening thirty five years; if anything, given recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s gained even more pertinence.
Still, there’s much to savour and enjoy here, in what you might call a confident start.
Director: Michael Grandage.
Designer/Costume: Christopher Oram.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound: Nick Lidster & Terry Jardine for Autograph.
Composer/Orchestration: Denis King.
Musical Director: Jae Alexander.
Choreographer: Ben Wright.
Dialect Coach: Penny Dyer.
Associate director: Cathal Cleary
Associate designers/costume: Lee Newby, David Woodhead.
Associate lighting: Ben Donohue.
Associate sound: Yvonne Gilbert.
First performance of this production at the Noel Coward Theatre London 1 December 2012.