Writer: Noël Coward
Director: Tom Littler
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
The Jermyn Street Theatre has set itself an ambitious task – staging a full schedule of Noël Coward’s group of one-act plays Tonight at 8.30. In addition to producing these nine smart shows, it is also staging three pieces of new writing – Tomorrow at Noon. These are brand new and have been chosen as a modern response to Coward’s 1930’s creations. Playing in repertory, each group of three can be seen separately, or on weekend days through the run, all 9 original plays are performed.
The three Nuclear Families plays showcase a superb versatility in both Coward’s capacity for creativity, but also, happily, in the performers. The trio range from comedic hi-jinks and semi-sentimentality to thrilling drama all keeping with the core idea of exposing the cracks beneath the veneer of middle-class life. Coward takes us through positive and negative cases, benign and utterly serious, engaging throughout with his power to turn a phrase.
Family Album brings some gentle ribbing at the stuffiness of the Victorian mourning tradition. Massive black dresses and tiny glasses of madeira to start. Soon, helps by many more of those tiny glasses, a more human element comes in as the whole group get involved with reminiscing about the joys the family shared as children, and their enjoyment of each other’s company. With smooth comes rough, however, and a darker and more honest feeling about the dead father helps end the piece. A super ensemble effort, but Jeremy Rose’s fine baritone singing and strength as the new head of the household (as eldest son of the deceased) is a highlight.
Hands across the Sea is a genteel and very active farce. Piggie, wife of Commander Peter Gilpin R.N. stayed with a family when on a trip around the world. Unfortunately, completely forgot they were supposed to repay the favour when the family came to England – so when they telephone to say they’ll be arriving soon – panic breaks loose. Managing multiple threads of conversation and activity, this is as complex as it gets for the whole Tonight at 8.30 cycle – and the cast positively revel in it. Miranda Foster as the hostess oversees the chaos with the breezy charm of someone used to madcap social situations – putting everyone at ease though it all feels like it should fall apart at any moment.
Finishing with the most dramatically affecting piece in the whole nine plays, The Astonished Heart is Coward’s story of a man, his wife, and her friend that seduces him is a powerful piece of writing. Slightly out of place when compared to the other two but we can say it follows the familial theme well enough. A messy affair is the reason the smaller cast get to tackle some deeply affecting and beautifully rendered writing from Coward. Creating and reproducing a couple’s most intensely personal and painful matters often comes across as words the author feels they should say, this feels genuine and raw – all credit to the Miranda Foster again here, and Nick Waring for pulling off the section’s finale with such strength.
As with the other two in the set of three showcases, Louie Whitemore’s set design provides all we need to fully get immersed in the worlds. There’s not as much music in this section as the others, but the quality from Jeremy Rose in Family Album more than makes up for lack of quantity. The variety on display here is fantastic, an excellent grouping.
Runs until 10 May 2018 | Image: David Monteith-Hodge