If someone should mention ‘The Master’ what immediately springs to mind? Well, if you are a bit of a geeky whovian, like me, then a swarthy Galifreyan Time-Lord bent of universal domination is your man. If however you are of a more literary nature then your thoughts will turn to someone else entirely. Where is this leading you may ask, well last night I got to spend some time with the theatrical master as I saw the Proud Haddock production of “A Naughty Night with Noel Coward” at the Old Red Lion, Islington.
The show is comprised of two one-act plays and concerning the lives and loves of the English upper classes. The first “We Were Dancing” is set in the Samolo Country Club where we meet Louise Charteris (Lianne Harvey) who has met, danced and fallen in love with Karl Sandys (James Sindall) and rather incurred the displeasure of her husband Hubert (John MacCormick) and his sister Clara Bethel (Beth Eyre). Louise, Karl and Hubert, discuss the matter calmly and objectively – along with some quite emotional outbursts from Clara and try to decide what to do for the best. It’s all very civilised and although there are revelations about Louise and Hubert’s marriage along the way, there are no histrionics and everything is settled over a drink accompanied by the tinkling of the piano (Tom Self playing beautifully). However, as the moon sets and the sun rises how will Louise and Karl view in each in the cold light of day.
Following a very nicely staged change of scenery, we were back with the second play. Alice (Tracey Pickup) is getting ready to head out with her husband David (Stephen Fawkes). She is in her bedroom discussing with her friend Marion (Beth Eyre) the latest scandal in the social circle – an unfaithful wife being horse whipped by her husband – and commenting on how David would never do anything like that as he was far too honourable a man who would no doubt forgive her if she had strayed away. Not surprisingly, Marion is shocked that Alice should talk of David like this – lets be honest it did come as a bit of surprise to me that Alice found David’s honourableness to be a negative aspect to his character. Of course, Marion is a little bit biased as she is in love with David herself (a fact that Alice knows very well), whilst Alice fell out of love with her husband a long time ago. Nowadays, there would be a good old row, a quick trip to the divorce courts and everything would be sorted out but this is upper class England in the 1920s so things have to be a little more circumspect, leaving the audience to wonder if David and Marion will ever achieve true happiness with each other.
Two plays by a master playwright and wordsmith, “A Naughty Night with Noel Coward” is a very pleasant way to spend an evening. Neither play is intellectually taxing – but both do, in fact, demand a lot from their actors. John and James as Hubert and Karl respectively have to maintain a total air of upper class indifference whilst discussing the breakup of the former’s marriage due to the actions of the latter, using lines and phrases that had many of the audience rolling about with laughter. In “The Better Half” Tracey’s portrayal of Alice is superb with some wonderfully written long passages to deliver. Alice could easily come across as a bitch but somehow Tracey keeps her on the right side of the line so that whatever she said and did, I found it really easy to like her. Jimmy Walker’s direction is spot on in both plays and makes really good use of the intimate space in the theatre – even fitting in a waltz or two without falling over the set or the audience.
If I’m honest I preferred “The Better Half” to “We Were Dancing” it seemed to me a more realistic story and was slightly less ‘stiff upper lip, Empire on which the sun never set’ which was how the latter struck me. But, all told the two plays worked well together and I came out of the theatre with a contented smile on my face and a real desire to see more of ‘The (other) Master’s’ work.
Review by Terry Eastham
A Naughty Night with Noël Coward looks at the scandalous side of high society with two hilarious one-act plays by Noël Coward: We Were Dancing and The Better Half (which was only discovered in 2007). Coward’s wicked wit comes alive in this naughty night of extramarital affairs.
Carefully considered sets surrounding a revolving stage and live pianist will bring both plays to life.
Director Jimmy Walters, co-founder of Proud Haddock, says, Through the use of costume, set, props and performances we aim to give the audience not just a Noël Coward performance but a Noël Coward ‘back in time’ experience.
Proud Haddock – ‘A Naughty Night with Noel Coward’ Behind The Scenes
Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Saturday matinees 2pm
Sunday matinees 3pm
Latecomers will not be admitted.
Running time 65 minutes, no interval.
Friday 7th August 2015