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Volcano – Oxford Playhouse

Writer: Noel Coward

Director: Roy Marsden

Reviewer: Mary Tapper


Noel Coward wrote Volcano in 1956 but it has never been performed before this touring production. So, is Volcano a fiery play, full of passion and wit, worthy of its name or a rather damp squib of a play that disappoints?

The play tells a tale of adultery and betrayal, as relationships evolve in a pressure cooker of a house built on the side of the volcano that gives the play its name. Adela Shelly has fallen for the charms of married man Guy, but, despite her professing love for him, the relationship is purely platonic. When Guy’s wife flies in to the Caribbean island to reclaim her man Adela’s best friend also falls under his spell it is not long before drama unfolds.

Here Adela is played by Jenny Seagrove and, with a rather quiet, deep, husky voice, it is hard to hear all the dialogue clearly. Seagrove seems ill at ease throughout the production, stumbling occasionally with words and failing to convince that there is any chemistry with the infamous Guy, played with bucket loads of cheesy charm by Jason Durr. It is hard to see Durr as the credible subject of so much female attention and scenes containing both Seagrove and Durr lack emotional connection, so the audience is left rather stranded, not really caring about the conclusion of the play. Seagrove seems miscast, as she does nothing to portray the flirting, coquettish behaviour that her character claims to employ.

The play is rescued from mediocrity by good supporting rôles. Dawn Steele is highly entertaining as the catty Melissa, Guy’s poor long-suffering wife, and manages just the right amount of vulnerability along with some excellent one-liners. Perdita Avery is also excellent as Adela’s friend Ellen and helps provide the best moment of the play when she talks to her estranged husband, well played by Tim Daish, about why their marriage is not working. This scene is moving and well paced so that we forget the acting and are absorbed in the story, with a real interest in how their relationship will pan out. Special mentions too for Robin Sebastian and Finty Williams as the ex-pats so happily married that they cannot bear to be parted in time of crisis; funny and charming they bring life to every scene they are in.

The production itself has some nice touches. Scenery is simple with the veranda of the house providing the setting throughout. The mountain plays its part, as special effects are well used to create the stirring volcano; sound and lighting are employed with imagination as the tension is really ratcheted up to produce a splendid scene when danger threatens and the play gains drama and urgency.

Despite these highlights, overall the production is a bit of a disappointment. It promises much but rather peters out, just as our interest has been ignited. Having produced some intrigue and revelations it is a pity that once again the play is at its weakest when the two main protagonists are left to have the final words at the end. Good production values, some good acting, but needs more fire in the belly from the leads.

Runs until 21st July

Picture: Keith Patterson

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