THIS WAS A MAN
by Noel Coward.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 2 August 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 June.
Earnestly comic early Coward receives a strong British premiere.
This is the second early Noel Coward work in the Finborough’s wide-ranging Rediscoveries programme. Unlike 2006’s The Rat Trap, Coward’s first play and an attack on the marriages people let themselves in for, This Was A Man shows experience, coming just after Hay Fever and The Vortex.
It resembles more the emotionally-charged Vortex. Despite a New York premiere, its picture of marital infidelity made it unacceptable to the British censor in 1926. Having missed even the 1999 Coward centenary it therefore arrives on the London stage in 2014, when Belinda Lang’s production reflects both the quality of her own work as an actor and the high standards prevailing at the Finborough.
Its most puzzling feature is the title, from Mark Antony’s encomium to his dead enemy Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. If the man referred to is Edward Churt – Coward might have considered a Society portrait painter a fitly heroic figure – he is an unusually passive centrepiece, watching silently in the dark as his wife Carol returns home with yet another lover. Jamie de Courcey emphasises – if that’s not too forceful a term – Edward’s refusal to make a fuss.
What particularly set the 1926 censor’s nose twitching was probably the long central scene where Edward’s right-thinking friend Evelyn, pretending a desire for Carol, brings her to his flat for a private dinner.
Script and performances provide a splendid contrast between Robert Portal’s Evelyn, all dinner-jacketed formality, strong-voiced and certain of his moral ground, yet awkward in playing a role and Dorothea Myer-Bennett (who has done fine work in Bristol’s Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory seasons), fluidly evasive as Carol, who may be taken by surprise but is accomplished at improvising her way out of potential scrapes.
Other, more marginal characters are all played with assurance, Georgina Rylance being especially fine as the willowy, assured yet sympathetic Zoe, the woman Edward should have married – if only to paint her elegantly-patterned first act clothing, which, with designer Simon Kenny’s ability to create two affluent interiors on a tiny stage, and doubtless even tinier budget, provides an attractive visual element to the evening.
Harry Challoner: Alex Corbet Burcher.
Carol Churt: Dorothea Myer-Bennett.
Edward Churt: Jamie De Courcey.
Bobby Romford: Nicholas Audsley.
Margot Butler: Grace Thurgood.
Zoe St Merryn: Georgina Rylance.;
Evelyn Bathurst: Robert Portal.
Director: Belinda Lang.
Designer: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Matt Eagland.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Associate costume: Jessica Knight.