Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Theatre review: A Naughty Night with Noël Coward

I'm starting to think it's just as well that Noël Coward was gay, because from the last few plays of his I've seen he seems to have found the idea of men smacking women around pretty hilarious. That particular ugly little meme raises its head in the second of a pair of one-acters grouped together under the theme of marital infidelity at the Old Red Lion, as A Naughty Night with Noël Coward. Jimmy Walters directs an hour of snappy witticisms that starts with We Were Dancing, set at a country club somewhere in Indonesia. Louise (Lianne Harvey) and Karl (James Sindall) have danced together and decided they're instantly in love. This doesn't go down too well with Louise's husband Hubert (John MacCormick) though. This is followed by the rediscovery The Better Half, which takes us to the boudoir of Alice (Tracey Pickup,) who's preparing for a dinner party with her friend Marion (Beth Eyre.) They're discussing a society divorce that's been the talk of the gossip pages.

Marion thinks Alice's husband is perfect, but her friend bursts that bubble: David (Stephen Fawkes) always tries to be the bigger man, see every side of an argument and be forgiving; his wife wishes for a bit more fallibility and passion.

The production ties the stories together with a couple of Coward's songs, performed at the piano by Tom Self, a nice touch but one I felt more could have been done with - the musical interludes are a bit sparsely used and stop completely by the time we get to the second playlet, with the result that it doesn't feel like Walters knew how far he wanted to stick to the conceit.

We Were Dancing is the more entertaining of the two plays, its story that turns Louise and Karl's sudden romance into an entire relationship abridged into one evening, coming with a lot of trademark pithy, funny one-liners. The Better Half features the evening's strongest performance in the sharp and confident Pickup, but the attempt at a slightly more serious piece comes across as something of an extended rant. This is also where Coward throws in his references to women wanting to be slapped around a bit to prove their husbands' love; different times and all that but the amount of times the writer casually drops that Carousel shizzle into his work is becoming another reason I can't quite see Coward as the enduring genius so many others see him as.

A Naughty Night with Noël Coward by Noël Coward is booking until the 29th of August at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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