Noël Coward an early master of
intertextual metatheatricality... who'd have thought it? When a
frustrated house-guest unleashes her second-act tirade against the
Bliss family, the unconventional (to say the least) hosts of an
eventful (a similar understatement) country-house weekend, she declares
that she has been building up to it all evening "but I kept being mown
down by theatrical effects", meaning the Blisses' conspiracy of
histrionicism. Of course, it reminds us that the whole thing is merely
a play, too; but since we take delight in the characters'
theatricality, why shouldn't they do so themselves? Deconstructivists
might call it jouissance
in this case I prefer the English term: having a bit of a lark.
No doubt arguments can be made that there is more depth to the play,
that the Blisses ridicule superficialities as part of a desire to find
something more profound, but I don't buy that. This is early Coward
(1925) at his lightest and, for want of a more dignified term, zaniest.
When father, mother, son and daughter all invite prospective lovers to
the bohemian family’s country seat on the same weekend, it is not a
cause for shock or moral admonition, but rather dashed inconvenient
that none of them has the field clear to themselves. It is pretty much
a given that, in the course of an evening, all will change partners;
what completely bewilders the guests – a couple of ingenues, a diplomat
and a femme fatale
her match – is that once renowned actress Judith Bliss decides to
improvise on the theme of some of her past melodramatic glories, the
rest of the family join in with gusto, leaving the poor saps to believe
that feelings really are running as absurdly high as the rhetoric.
Nikolai Foster's production is firmly in the cash-cow category of
Chichester productions, but none the less agreeable. Diana Rigg and
Simon Williams enjoy themselves as the Bliss parents; Natalie Walter is
as delightful a wide-eyed innocent as ever; her male counterpart Edward
Bennett is full of bounce, as if still buoyed by his reception as David
Tennant's replacement Hamlet last year; and Guy Henry excels at trying
to be that little bit more suave than his lanky frame will allow. When
summer seems to have come early to Chichester, profundity be damned.
Written for the Financial