STAR QUALITY
Apollo Theatre, London W1
Opened 29 October, 2001

** A strange muddle of moods

A 1951 Noël Coward story, turned into a play by him in 1967, adapted by Christopher Luscombe in 2001, and really not any one thing.

The story of how an ageing, discreetly despotic theatre star does battle in her new production with a hot young director of the new school allows for a number of prime-quality Coward lines, especially given to Penelope Keith as Lorraine Barrie. Strangely, though, Luscombe directs the play (on an artificially sparse stage design) in a way which makes it seem not gently self-deprecating satire but earnestly navel-gazing. It has neither the weight to bear this approach, nor the lightness to counteract it.

Keith works well as the actress who does not even realise how manipulative she is as a matter of course, but Russell Boulter as leather-jacketed, polo-necked director Ray Malcolm is in a different play: true, he is intended to provide a contrast with the "luvvies", but much of his performance is positively leaden. Even stranger, the portrayal of Ray and his assistant Tony (Nick Waring, trying bravely but in vain to be feline) as a gay couple comes over as oddly homophobic a little so in Coward's writing, much more in Luscombe's direction. In attempting to make the play cover all possible bases, Luscombe on the contrary leaves it floundering in no-man's-land.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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