Writer: Noel Coward
Director: Roy Marsden
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Set in the fictional island paradise of Samolo, against the backdrop of the volcano of the title, Coward’s play, unperformed during his lifetime, is a departure from his more light hearted society plays. Drawing his inspiration from his real life tropical paradise in Jamaica and basing the characters on his circle of friends, Volcano is Coward’s riposte to the critics who thought him out of touch with the then current trend of gritty realism in the theatre. The trademark witty lines are here of course but there are many more direct references to sex than one would expect from the playwright.
Set in the tropics the play is however, unmistakeably English and equally unmistakeably Coward, with the characters opting for sarcasm and wit to defeat their rivals, rather than good old fashioned anger.
Often with Coward’s work the characters are so well observed and so familiar to us, that it seems to leave the cast little room in which to develop their rôles. The star cast assembled for this production show no such problems each portraying their respective characters with wonderful subtlety and skill that draws the audience in immediately and holds us in rapt attention throughout.
Jenny Seagrove as Adela the widowed plantation owner gives a marvellous performance of coolness and restraint and her verbal jousting with the louche Guy, and then with Guy’s wife Melissa, is perfectly observed. She constantly gives the impression of someone who wants to break free from the love for her departed husband, but is still quite unable to bring herself to take that step. As Guy, Jason Durr is instantly believable in the rôle, his innate charm and insouciance pervading every scene he appears in. Dawn Steele as Melissa his long suffering wife, positively crackles with bitterness and jealousy, perfectly delivering some bitchy lines laden with sarcasm, even her pointed silences manage to feel like put downs.
Presented on a well designed set with some excellent special effects, the action builds towards the inevitable explosion, not only of the volcano of the title but also in the interplay between the characters as the ash cloud darkens the sky and the atmosphere becomes ever more tense. As the threat of eruption draws closer the characters let their masks slip briefly as they descend into panic, heated exchanges and physical violence.
The next morning brings an unexpected guest and also an unexpected revelation or two as the previous night’s damage begins to be cleared up, both physically and mentally.
Then as all the guests have taken their leave, and Adela is alone again we begin to wonder if Melissa was right when she says ‘the most beautiful thing about having people to stay is when they leave’. Adela’s steely stare seems to suggest not.