TONIGHT AT 8.30
by Noel Coward.
Tour to 26 July 2014.
Runs 2hr 30min (‘Dinner’) One pause + one interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 June.
Adventurous programming but too often inert in practice.
This is as complete a production as is likely to come along of the one-act pieces Noel Coward wrote in the 1930s. Nine plays are set in three groups by English Touring Theatre, with new umbrella labels ‘Cocktails’, ‘Dancing’ and (under review here) ‘Dinner’.
Stylistically, they allowed Coward to experiment with ideas he did not have to sustain over a whole evening. ‘Dinner’ itself, though varied in tone, has little of the variety suggested by the musical and choreographic credits in a programme which, shamefully, does not credit each character to its particular actor.
More unfortunately there is a mismatch between plays and a usually inspiring director, here with an uneven cast ranging from the fine to the barely tolerable.
Ways and Means has two of the strongest performers as a couple whose gambling losses leave them barely to get out of bed for debts, let alone continue continent-crawling, until a neat solution suggests itself, involving a sympathetic felon who retains the skilled subservience of days in service.
Several moments indicate problems to come on Robert Innes Hopkins’ confined set, but generally the main performances carry matters smoothly.
Less so with Fumed Oak, where a male worm turns on his family of forceful women. Such a sudden eruption needs a more varied and characterful performance than is provided here.
And the staging is awkward, the oldest woman in the family seated much of the time like an old dresser let loose on the stage to help with a quick change.
There’s little animation here, if a lot of unfocused fussing. But such problems reach their head in the awkward staging of Still Life. This famously became the David Lean film Brief Encounter but the encounter seems too long, and unatmospheric, here.
The passionate yet guilty lovers march on together as if for routine business meetings, while the station buffet’s counter is itself too brief and huddled, with moments of action crowded into a corner. Philip Wilson’s Liverpool staging a decade ago was incomparably more skilled and genuinely moving.
It’s to be hoped ‘Dancing’ and ‘Cocktails’ are proving more dramatically digestible.
Cast: Kirsty Besterman, Daniel Crossley, Amy Cudden, Shereen Martin, Olivia Poulet, Gyuri Sarossy, Peter Singh, Orlando Wells, Rupert Young.
Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Ggregory Clarke.
Musical Director: Michael Haslam.
Choreographer: Bill Deamer.
Assistant director: Natasha Jenkins.
Assistant choreographer: Kylie Anne Cruikshanks.
25-28 June Sat 7.30pm Mat 12pm & 3.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
2-5 July 8pm Mat Thu 2.30pm, Sat 12pm & 4pm Audio-described Sat 4pm Captioned Thu 2.30pm & 8pm The Lowry Salford 0843 208 6000 www.thelowry.com
10-12 July 7.45pm Mat Thu 2.30pm Sat 12pm & 3.30pm Audio-described Sat 3.30pm Captioned Thu 2.30pm & 7.45pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
16-19 July 7.45pm Mat Thu 2.30pm; Sat 12.30pm & 4pm Audio-described Sat 4pm Captioned Thu 2.30pm & 7.45pm Theatre Royal Brighton 0844 871 7650 www.atgtickets.com/shows/tonight-at-830/theatre-royal-brighton
23-26 July Wed-Fri 7.30pm Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu 2.30pm Sat 12pm & 3.30pm Hall for Cornwall Truro 01872 262466 www.hallforcornwall.co.uk