Tuesday, 6 September 2016
Theatre review: Home Chat
By the time Janet arrives back in England she finds her husband Paul (Tim Chipping) has already had a crisis meeting with both his and her mothers (Polly Adams and Joanna David in nice quietly shocked, tea-drinking form) to discuss what is clearly a case of infidelity.
Except it isn't, and what offends Janet even more than the assumption is the fact that Paul rushes to "magnanimously" forgive her before actually establishing whether there's anything to forgive. Instead of taking it on the chin, Janet plays up to everyone's low expectations - she and Peter pretend the affair is real, and in the process everyone else in their lives reveals a bit more than they had meant to. Paul's eagerness to accept that Janet has cheated on him makes particular sense when his assistant Mavis (Clare Lawrence Moody,) who's always been obviously in love with him, finally makes her move.
Coward is very insistent on his point about people instantly assuming the worst about others, but it doesn't feel overly laboured as he's made the whole structure of the story about the accused couple trying to laugh it off and being repeatedly misinterpreted. Parr keeps his production decidedly old-fashioned, with the cast speaking in the clipped upper-class tones the playwright himself was famous for; Robert Hazle, playing various butlers, performs Coward songs to cover the scene changes. As one of my problems with Coward is that productions sometimes assume a universality I don't think he actually has, I approve of keeping him within his original context and style like this.
It means the play remains light and funny, and as Janet meets the handsome young Major Alec Stone (Philip Correia,) she might actually be able to turn her husband's hypocrisy to her own advantage. "Rediscoveries" tend to split between the surprisingly good and those that have obviously been "lost" for a reason, and Home Chat falls comfortably into the former category, not a piece of particularly great depth but an entertaining - and, in its day, surely mildly subversive - way to spend an evening.
Home Chat by Noël Coward is booking until the 24th of September at the Finborough Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Robert Workman