TONIGHT AT EIGHT THIRTY

23 Apr

TONIGHT AT EIGHT THIRTY
BY NOEL COWARD
AT THE JERMYN STREET THEATRE

Tom Littler, artistic director of the little Jermyn Street theatre has done an amazing job. He has directed nine short plays by Noel Coward with the same nine actors. These nine plays will be presented all day on Saturday and again on Sunday During the week they will be played three per evening. How delightful to get involved in the rarified air of Coward’s sophisticated world of the nineteen thirties..
Noel described the nine plays as ‘Brilliantly written, exquisitely directed and I am bewitching in all of them’. Of course, in the original, all the leading roles were played by the Master himself and his greatest muse Gertrude Lawrence. In Littler’s production they are ensemble pieces with each actor given one or two opportunities to shine.
The bunches of three are given names. “Bedroom Farces” consists of ‘We were dancing’ a daft couple who dance together and instantly fall in love as is the way in the Noel Coward Martini driven life style. Would be unfair to give the ending even though it is inevitable. ‘Ways and Means’ is a comedy about a young married couple who live on their wits and other peoples’ money on the Riviera. They are deep in debt and have to find some way of coping with financial disaster.
In the “Nuclear Families” section – ‘Family Album’ is a hilarious funeral with some rather good choral singing. ‘Hands Across the Sea’ is probably the funniest of all, some people have arrived at her dwelling and Lady Piggy, who invited them, cannot quite remember who they are. (My personal favourite – I understand her dilemma perfectly.) ‘The Astonished Heart’ was made into a film is about a married psychiatrist who falls in love with as temptress. This I felt was the least successful of all. Melodramatic with little sympathy for the characters involved. Coward could never quite believe in love.
The most well- known of the plays happens in “Secret Hearts”. ‘Red Peppers’ is probably the best known – I didn’t feel this was altogether successful – that the act was not really well worked out = but we must remember the amount of work these actors have to learn and remember. The final play in this set is ‘Still Life’ which was made into the film Brief Encounter. Another of the typical Coward lovers who never have much luck. But this is gentler than most and not quite so much alcohol involved.
It would be good to name all the actors, but it is an excellent ensemble and they are all in it together including the musical director. Needless to say they are all highly respected members of the profession.
It is a most fascinating way to spend Saturday or Sunday and I recommend seeing them all on one day if possible. Go back in time. Enter into Coward’s world. It is fun, though hardly realistic. And no worse for that.

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