by Noel Coward.
Tour to 11 August 2012.
Runs 2hr 5min One minute.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 June.
A minor eruption of late, unknown Coward well-produced.
Suddenly, it seems, the wife of James Bond’s creator is in theatrical vogue. Ann Fleming cropped up in Hugh Whitemore’s Suez story A Marvellous Year for Plums recently at Chichester, which dramatises her affair with Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell. And Mrs Fleming was apparently the inspiration for the acidly contemptuous Melissa, whose husband Guy is a serial philanderer, in Noel Coward’s Volcano.
Characters visiting the enclave of Adela Shelley’s volcano-side Caribbean estate writhe in the misery of marital infidelity. Adela and Guy begin Roy Marsden’s production writhing on her lawn in a passionate embrace that ends before it ruffles the Home Counties smoothness of Jenny Seagrove’s dress.
From then, Adela’s a moral compass as spouses arrive, then, after protective – if not often effective (these people know each other too well) – deceits are spun, leave. And the greeting between two old (male) school chums suggests an unforced friendship from youth lies deeper than any marriage. The placing of this reunion also hints that Coward was on his way to establishing a gay relationship in the characters’ past, as he was to do more openly in his final A Song at Twilight a decade later.
Marsden had a first stab at Volcano in 2000 at Westcliffe-on-Sea’s Palace Theatre. This production is better acted and more convincing. It takes most of the first act to get behind the talk, which in style remains Coward writing self-conscious dialogue, without the wit and verve of his most popular plays.
By the second act, as the volcano metaphorically erupts (a metaphor presumably not intended to extend to the statement that it affected other parts of the island rather than this little group) the focus sharpens. Seagrove sympathetically retains the moral centre her character doesn’t entirely earn, helped by Dawn Steele’s relentlessly unpleasant Melissa, wife to philandering Guy, with Perdita Avery’s Ellen looking seriously young and adrift as she enters the adulterous forest, and Finty Williams working hard to establish the contrasting role of the patient wife living nearby.
The men are efficient, but it’s the women here in Coward who occupy the play’s centre.
Adela Sweeney: Jenny Seagrove.
Melissa Littleton: Dawn Steele.
Guy Littleton: Jason Durr.
Grizelda Craigie: Finty Williams.
Ellen Danbury: Perdita Avery.
Robin Craigie: Robin Sebastian.
Keith Danbury: Tim Daish.
Director: Roy Marsden.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Mike Robertson.
Sound: Matthew Bugg.
Costume: Trish Wilkinson.
4-9 June Richmond Theatre 0844 871 7651 www.atgtickets.com/richmond
11-16 June Mon-Wed 7.30pm Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed, Thu, Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk
18-23 June 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Arts Theatre Cambridge 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
25-30 June 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne 01323 412000 www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk
2-7 July 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Severn Shrewsbury 01743 281281 www.theatresevern.co.uk
9-14 July Mon-Thu 7.45pm Fri-Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford 01483 430000 www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk
16-21 July Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
23-28 July 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Brighton 0844 871 7650 www.atgtickets.com/brighton
30 July-4 Aug 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Churchill Theatre Bromley 0844 871 7620 www.atgtickets/bromley
6-11 August 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Malvern Festival Theatre 01684 892277 www.malvern-theatres.co.uk