Tomight at 8.30, 4****, London

by Noel Coward.

Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST to 20 May 2018.
The nine plays are divided into three groups – Bedroom Farces, Secret Hearts & Nuclear Families. All three are done on Saturday and Sunday. 11.30am. 2.30pm and 7.30pm/
Individual groups are performed from Wed to Friday at 7.30pm.
Running times vary up to 2hr 30 mins and there is an interval.

TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Review: William Russell April 22.

Little gems?

Jermyn Street direcyorTom Littler’s decision to do nine of the ten playlets which make up Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8.30 is pretty well justified by the results although staging them at weekends in groups of three all on the same day, represents something of a marathon for actors and audience. But it does throw light on the things that appear elsewhere in Coward’s full length plays and although star quality, the essential element of the original enterprise is lacking – they were vehicles for Coward and his friend Gertrude Lawrence to display their talents – you get some good actors doing very good things.

Which is not to say that all the playlets are good. The Astonished Heart, which oddly Littler has chosen to end the marathon with, is a stinker of the first order and was shown up as such when Coward filmed it with Margaret Leighton and Celia Johnson as the wife who allows her psychiatrist husband to have an affair with another woman. He gets jealous and ends up jumping out the window, which could not come soon enough. I felt like asking him to let me go first.

It is not the fault of the actors, Nick Waring as the psychiatrist, tries hard to make something of the man but to no avail, and Miranda Foster and Sarah Crowe do what they can with the two women.
Littler’s titles for the groups are of his own devising. Tonight at 8.30 does get done occasionally but to do the lot is rare, although he had dropped Fumed Oak in favour of Star Chamber which was only done once in 1936 when the plays first appeared. What it adds up to is a fascinating insight into the themes that interested Coward which were to appear in later greater works.

The two celebrated playlets, Red Peppers about the warring down the bill comic double act and Still Life, the basis for David Lean’s film Brief Encounter, work well. Red Peppers is in safe hands with Rosemary Ashe and Jeremy Rose as the warring comics on the way down and contains in Has Anybody Seen Our Ship a vintage Coward song. But Still Life is less happy and things are not helped by the presence of the Emma Rice musical version of Brief Encounter running just down the road.
The rude mechanicals working in the station buffet are in safe hands with Ms Ashe Stefan Bednarczyk, but Waring and Foster fail to married Laura and married doctor Alec plausible or interesting.

This is odd because in Ways and Means, a trifle about a feckless couple penniless on the Riviera they are dazzling in a vintage piece of Coward marital bickering well up to Private Lives standards. But maybe also it is that it is as David Lean’s Brief Encounter that the story really works.
Star Chamber, only done once in 1936, is a splendid spoof on actors attending a meeting of a theatrical charity and grandstanding gloriously as they overwhelm Waring’s innocent secretary who has met nothing like them before and condescending to the not quite one of us comic – Ian Hallard on form – whose theatre they have borrowed for the meeting. Family Album, a Victorian tale of a family returning from the funeral and the will is almost a tiny operetta, while Hands Across the Sea a hilarious look at the English upper classes who travelled the empire freeloading on the colonials and then forgetting the invitations to see them in London issued without thought. Shadow Play is a fantasy about what could have been with a couple of splendid Coward songs marred only by the fact that singing and dancing is not quite the actors playing the star crossed lovers forte.

One gets Coward’s snobbery, his ability to pin down people with pretension perfectly, his slightly skewed view of the working classes – the inevitable comic maids and butlers – the elegant warring couples who really love each other, while not being able to stand each other, impossible divas and elegant rotters as well as a host of brilliant one liners.
The result is like one of those chocolate box assortments – some you like, some you don’t – but all presented stylishly. A marathon to run, for sure, and even in its individual groupings to enjoy.

The players –
Rosemary Ashe, Stefan Bednardczyk, Sarah Crowe, Miranda Foster, Ian Hallard, Boadicea Ricketts, Jeremy Rose, Nick Waring, Ben Wiggins.

Director: Tom Littler.
Set Designer: Louie Whitemore.
Lighting Designer: Tim Mascall.
Costume Designer: Emily Stuart.
Sound Designer: Tom Attwood,
Choreographer: Gabriella Bird.

2018-04-24 09:45:14

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