by Noel Coward.

Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 29 June.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 27 June 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 27 June 7.30pm.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.

then Theatre Royal Brighton 1-6 July
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7627

then Richmond Theatre 8-13 July 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7651

Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 June.

A comic playwright at war with his world.

Pillars edge one curving side of Lady Marshfield’s country-home drawing-room (elegantly detailed designed from Stephen Brimson Lewis), before it reaches the wall overlooking the family estate. They extend by implication to the Theatre Royal pillars elegantly fronting the Royal Circle, giving its occupants something of an old-style immersive experience denied to the plebs in the stalls.

Class and plebs is what Relative Values is about, expressing Noel Coward’s horror as the privileged society he’d climbed into pre-war, slipped away. For, in 1951 Felicity, Countess of Marshfield’s estate would have been beset by the Labour government’s taxes. Yet she stays calm; Coward reserves statements on politics or class for the servants.

Lady’s maid Moxy (Dora Moxton, but a nickname’s good enough), glad of her long-term servitude, staunchly sides with Felicity rather than the sister-made-good who’s about to marry into the family.

This allows relaxed authority to define Felicity, and Patricia Hodge presents it supremely well. How so clever a woman became lumbered with her chinless-wonder son Nigel, a Hooray Henry with nothing to cheer about, is inexplicable.

Coward’s dream of natural aristocracy is as unconvincing as the final attack on social equality toasted by Crestwell, whom Rory Bremner, despite tending to divide longer sentences into shorter groups and angle his head while doing so, presents with immaculate authority and discretion.

Strong work too from Caroline Quentin as the oft-troubled Moxy, Rebecca Birch as star-obsessed maid Alice and comic detail from two of British acting’s aristocracy, Timothy Kightley and Amanda Boxer, as neighbours.

Coward builds his crisis round Nigel’s intention to marry a commoner who has become a film–star. She’s pursued by her ‘natural’ partner, Hollywood star Don. He’s a breath of fresh air in the stale Marshfield atmosphere, thanks to actor Ben Mansfield and director Trevor Nunn, rather than Coward.

A snatch of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Tallis Fantasia’ should be cut; it suggests traditions not in the Marshfield horse-and-hounds, village fête consciousness. And for the sharpest comment on social change, wait till the contemporary newsreels show the queen (then Princess Elizabeth) speaking in a tone fit to engrave elegant glassware.

Crestwell: Rory Bremner.
Alice: Rebecca Birch.
Dora Moxton: Caroline Quentin.
Felicity, Countess of Marshwood: Patricia Hodge.
Lady Cynthia Hayling: Amanda Boxer.
Hon Peter Ingleton: Steven Pacey.
Admiral Sir John Hayling: Timothy Kightley.
Nigel Earl of Marshwood: Sam Hoare.
Miranda Frayle: Katherine Kingsley.
Don Lucas: Ben Mansfield.

Director: Trevor Nunn.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Music consultant: Steven Edis.
Projections: Andrzej Goulding.
Associate director: Michael Oakley.

2013-06-23 12:59:32

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