by Noel Coward.
Harold Pinter Theatre Panton Street SW1Y 4DN To 21 June 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS 0844 871 7622.
Review: Carole Woddis 15 April.
A class act in more than one way.
There’s something decidedly whiffy about Noel Coward’s Relative Values. Written in 1951 and coinciding with the Festival of Britain and Labour’s defeat at the General Election, it’s a play awash in snobbery. Acclaimed at the time for its examination of English obsession with `class’, Trevor Nunn’s revival from the Theatre Royal Bath gives full rein to its comic brilliance, whilst setting it within Movietone news of the period.
A clever ruse. Presumably trying to counterbalance some of Coward’s more partisan views, it sets the tone for the evening. There’s an almost audible gasp when a clip shows the present Queen addressing the Guildhall with an accent that would split glass at 10 paces. ‘Did they really speak like that?’ you can hear younger members of the audience ask themselves.
Plummy accents may be back, in a post-modern, retro way, thanks to Downton Abbey – onto whose dinner tails this revival is evidently hanging – and Patricia Hodge as Felicity, Countess of Marshwood certainly makes the most of her cue.
Hodge is the main reason for sticking with a comic drama that betrays Coward’s own obsession with class and status perhaps more than he imagined. She is superb as Felicity, running elegant rings round her family and friends, the epitome of benign autocracy, kindly, if waspish, who seems to care more for her servants, Crestwell and Moxie, than her own offspring. Isn’t that nice?
However, when her prodigal son decides to suddenly marry an American Hollywood film-star, Felicity, with steely calculation, sets about sabotaging it. Coward’s witticisms and sharp repartee are delivered with perfection by Hodge. Caroline Quentin as Moxie, sporting a greying wig and dull pallor, delivers an affecting turn as the loyal personal maid.
Rory Bremner’s Crestwell, the butler, is a mystery – an impersonation of himself in a style recalling his impersonations of Kinnock or Gordon Brown. It is very weird and even more of a puzzle as to why the politically astute Bremner of the treasured Bremner, Bird and Fortune series has chosen to appear in a play whose antagonism to social equality may be witty but is certainly reactionary.
Crestwell: Rory Bremner.
Alice: Rebecca Birch.
Mrs Dora Moxton (Moxie): Caroline Quentin.
Felicity, Countess of Marshwood: Patricia Hodge.
Lady Cynthia Hayling: Amanda Boxer.
The Honourable Peter Ingleton: Steven Pacey.
Admiral Sir John Hayling: Timothy Kightley.
Nigel, Earl of Marshwood: Sam Hoare.
Miranda Frayle: Leigh Zimmerman.
Don Lucas: Ben Mansfield.
Director: Trevor Nunn.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Music consultant: Steven Edis.
Projections: Anddrzej Goulding.
Associate director: Michael Oakley.
First performance of this production at the Harold PInter Theatre London 19 March 2014.
First performance of this production of Relative Values, 23 June 2013 at Theatre Royal Bath.
Relative Values was first presented by HM Tennent and John C Wilson on tour at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 15 October 1951; subsequently at the Savoy Theatre, London from 28 November 1951.