THIS HAPPY BREED
by Noel Coward.
Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET In rep to 13 August 211.
11am 13 Aug.
2.30pm 28, 30 July, 4 Aug.
7.30pm 29, 30 July, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 Aug.
Audio-described 28 Aug.
BSL Signed 4 Aug 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 50min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 July.
Condescending Coward in a minutely detailed production.
Promises of a land fit for heroes after World War I turned, it was said, into the reality of one where it took heroism to live. Among many industrial troubles, England had its only General Strike.
Noel Coward’s high-life comedies might not be expected to reflect this. But when, on the eve of another war, he turned to the lower middle-class of south London and there’s not a breath of it, his limitations as a dramatist are severely apparent.
After four years in the trenches Frank Gibbons is merely grateful someone employs him. Helping break the General Strike is a great game. The one socialist, Sam Ledbitter (‘led’ – as by the nose, from Moscow, no doubt, and ‘bitter’) soon conforms when he has a wife to support.
It’s not the political stance that’s so damaging, but the lack of argument. Coward just spews right-wing platitudes from his characters’ mouths, assuming a ready public who would see how right they were to be Right because ‘The Master’ was now saying so.
This isn’t drama holding the mirror up to nature; it’s theatre plonking a great glass purporting to reflect to Stalls and Dress Circle what people in the Gallery think and feel – though thought hardly exists and feelings are stereotypical.
Frank, full of wise saws and instances, can always to put an errant mind back on track. He even ends up lecturing a baby in a pram. Yet Dean Lennox Kelly does an excellent, tactful job – never over-assertive, showing affection and understanding to wife, children and the ex-forces comrade next door.
All round, Stephen Unwin has injected life and as much reality as possible into his production. The staging is exemplary; in their initially bare new home, faded wallpaper still showing where the last occupants’ picture had hung, Frank and wife Ethel stand across the stage arguing then come lovingly together.
The whole cast, and the management of mood and pace, are exemplary as an interval affords the opportunity to update the décor and tensions become either comic or emotion-grabbing. But the script itself is superficial as a sanitised seaside postcard.
Frank Gibbons: Dean Lennox Kelly.
Ethel: Rebecca Johnson.
Sylvia: Jayne McKenna.
Vi: Jodie McNee.
Queenie: Sally Tatum.
Reg: Matthew Spencer.
Mrs Flint: Marjorie Yates.
Bob Mitchell: Rob Whitelock.
Billy: Tom McCall.
Sam Leadbitter: William Ellis.
Phyllis Blake: Holly Jones.
Edie: Amy Neilson-Smith.
Director: Stephen Unwin.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Composer: Corin Buckeridge.
Costume: Mark Bouman.
Assistant director: Alice Knight.
Assistant designer: Ruth Hall.