Surely Noël Coward cannot have imagined that his 1926 play of sexual butterflying could ever have been staged at the time!
In a chic Parisian hotel bar between the wars, we see a large and glittering social circle (the cast numbers 28) engaging in serial and simultaneous liaisons, straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual. Obviously Philip Prowse's production makes things rather more explicit than they would have been in the Twenties, but even so, it is a remarkably daring work by the young Coward. Daring and entertaining – as we see the likes of Nichola McAuliffe, Simon Dutton, Benedick Bates, Sophie Ward and a slew of regulars from Prowse's home base at Glasgow's Citizens theatre flutter over the stage – but it doesn't really go anywhere. Even the minor-key ending, as the approach of World War II is foretold, is clumsily tacked on by the director.
Being Prowse, of course, the whole thing looks camply opulent, although he goes for gilt rather than his usual acres of crimson velour. (Someone behind me, marvelling at the set, exclaimed loudly, "Wonderful dome!") It's delightful to watch this kind of socialite Brownian motion, and Coward's combination of enchanted fascination and puritanical reproof, but it has little to offer beyond a kind of diamante curiosity value.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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