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Review of Home Chat by Noel Coward at Finborough Theatre

Home ChatA single shaft of light illuminates a toy train on a table as the play opens. Music and sound effects build to a crescendo, as flickering lights give us a feel of being on a train. Butler Pallet bursts onto the stage with a typewriter and begins dressing the set ready for the play to begin.

Mavis’s (Clare Lawrence Moody) awkward infatuation with Paul (Tim Chipping) is clear from the first moment they interact on stage and Moody artfully plays the uncomfortable widow to great effect. In spite of not being a very likeable character, you can’t help but feel sorry for her as she gazes adoringly at Paul and is ignored or disdained by most of the other characters.

With the entrance of both Mrs Chilham (Joanna David) and Mrs Ebony (Polly Adams) both family and friends rapidly begin jumping to conclusions about the startling revelation that Paul’s wife shared a sleeping compartment on a train with another man. The fact that they were lucky to survive a horrific accident seems almost completely forgotten as the characters build themselves up into a crescendo of shock and scandal. The relationship between David and Adams is fantastic as the rival mothers of the Ebonys and is faintly reminiscent of Violet and Isabel Crawley in Downton Abbey; both actresses play their roles excellently and, Polly Adams in particular should be commended for her shift between nervous, angry, frustrated and, finally, a little bit smug.

When we are finally introduced to Janet and Peter the stage becomes a whirlwind of action. Zoë Waites, as Janet, shifts through a broad range of emotions, each one compelling. Her portrayal of Janet’s bewilderment, mockery and eventual frustration at the conclusions so rapidly deduced by her family and friends is fascinating to watch and she really brings the character alive. Richard Dempsey as Peter equally performs well and breathes life into a character which could easily fall into Janet’s shadow; he is great fun to watch and clearly enjoys playing the role. My main issue with the dynamic duo is that, throughout the play, it is difficult to believe that they are not really a couple. Indeed, the chemistry between the two actors makes it all too believable that they might have had an affair on the train carriage or after.

It is important to take a moment to talk about Robert Hazle, playing both the Ebony’s butler Pallett and Peter Chelsworth’s manservant Turner. At the opening of the play he methodically dresses the set, meets with Mavis and brings in the tea. Not once does he break character as the stoic butler until the end of Act 1 when he is joined onstage by a maid in order to effect a scene change from the Ebony’s house to Peter’s flat. The radio comes on and Pallett begins to sing along as the voice on the radio fades down. Hazle comes alive as he sings, moves set and even dances around the stage in a mesmerising performance both at the end of Act 1 during the scene change and after the interval before Act 3; a true delight to watch. His shift in personality and tone to play Chelsworth’s manservant made both of his characters distinct and further displayed his talent and ability.

Home Chat is well worth watching and there are some excellent laugh out loud moments, however, there are times when the storyline is frustrating. In particular, Janet comes across as a little selfish and irritating after a while, in spite of the excellent portrayal by Waites. The cast is strong and is supported by a well designed set, lighting and sound and the intimate setting of the Finborough Theatre allows the audience to fully enjoy the piece.

4 stars

Revie by Cat Lamin

The first UK production in nearly 90 years
I am shirking off the chains that have shackled me for so long – I have suddenly come to realise that I am a woman – a living, passionate, pulsating woman – it never occurred to me before.

A unique rediscovery in its first UK production since its premiere in 1927.
Janet Ebony and her best friend Peter Chelsworth are innocently sharing a sleeping compartment when their train to Paris is involved in a disastrous railway accident. Outrage and scandal ensue as Janet’s husband Paul and her fearsome mother-in-law accuse Janet and Peter of adultery. Aghast at their families’ accusations, Janet and Peter decide to take revenge by inventing an adulterous affair…

Written with Noël Coward’s trademark wit and insight, Home Chat is a distinctly modern comedy about female sexuality and fidelity, in a society rigidly governed by decorum and reputation.

Home Chat by Noël Coward. Directed by Martin Parr. Designed by Rebecca Brower.

Tuesday, 30 August – Saturday, 24 September 2016
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London, SW10 9ED


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