Writer : Noel Coward
Director: Trevor Nunn
Reviewer : Steve Turner
Coward’s satire set in the early 1950s deals, as do so many of his works, with the clash between the classes. This time however the clash is not between the upper class and lower class but between the established order and the nouveau riche in the guise of an American film star.
The Earl of Marshwood is soon to arrive home with his fiancée Miranda Frayle, an English born Hollywood star, the pair having just announced their intentions to marry after a whirlwind romance. This throws the Marshwood household into chaos both upstairs and down as Moxie, Lady Marshwood’s maid is violently opposed to the marriage, as is Lady Marshwood.
Despite being full of Coward’s trademark wit and some pithy one liners, there is a languorous feel to the piece with a long first act (actually acts one and two of the play) sagging slightly in the middle, and a second act that is rather devoid of any real events. The saving grace for this version is the wonderful cast. Caroline Quentin as Moxie is a bundle of conflicting emotions ranging from disbelief and indignation to apoplectic rage, outrageous and not over the top she delivers a star turn. Patricia Hodge is equally well cast and gives Lady Marshwood a well observed level of calm interspersed with some cutting asides. The surprise here is Rory Bremner in his first dramatic rôle as Crestwell the butler. Carefully avoiding dragging the character into a cliché he gives the butler just the right air of superiority over his colleagues and deference to his superiors.
With an excellent supporting cast featuring Steven Pacey as Lady Marshwood’s nephew, and Katherine Kingsley and Ben Mansfield as the two Hollywood stars, the company manage to keep the interest of the audience throughout despite the lack of real excitement in the plot.
The play was written in the period soon after the war when the divides between the classes were being eroded, rationing was still in place – although clearly not at the Marshwood’s, and the focus of the theatre was beginning to turn away from the light hearted dramas with which Coward made his name. Indeed Coward uses some of the characters to bemoan the state of the country and the theatre making his views on the subject very clear.
While the play may be a little light on drama and a touch dated tonight’s packed house found themselves thoroughly entertained with the cast often having to pause while the laughter subsided, and although a little long and wordy it still provides for an entertaining evening out.
Runs until 6th July 2013