There is little doubt that Noël Coward’s 92 year old play is one of the greatest comedies of all time. His perfectly constructed plot, brilliantly crafted dialogue and wicked sense of humour shine still after all these years, it is simply timeless.
But the word timeless was perhaps the stumbling block for this elegantly staged new production. Firmly set in period with a rather good balcony set and a perhaps over embellished Paris Apartment (sometimes less is more), designer Simon Higlett certainly conjures the era, again timeless – art decoratif in the Parisienne mode. Costumes too set the time and the tone, although if nit-picking some of those adorning Amanda were less then well fitted – but the look was good.
And by now you are probably sensing that I am avoiding the core of the evening, yes the performances. The casting is interesting, Both Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers are in so many ways right for their roles. They are seasoned performers, they can handle the parts, the comedy and in particular those wonderfully clipped tones of the upper classes. They do this with style. And who knew that Patrica Hodge had such a charming voice, here deployed in the perfect style of the period, a definite high point in the evening for me.
Am I still avoiding getting to the point? Well yes, you see no matter how hard I tried I simply could not get away from the fact that neither of them are… well let me say “timeless”, or to put it in harsher terms too old to play the ill matched lovers.
They certainly give it their all and their performances have some energy, but I struggled to suspend my belief. Patricia Hodge can certainly handle the comedy and delivers those barbed lines brilliantly. Nigel Havers is less convincing, he lacks the cool and often heartless nuances of a good Elyot and as such is rather too jokey.
The appearance of Natalie Walter as a rather good Sybil, simpering and eventually shrill, merely emphasises the age issue and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as Victor, whilst not so unbelievable age-wise, plays the part well as the well intentioned and rather stuffy buffoon. Äichica Kossoko is marvellous as the blustering maid Louise delivering her lines with that rapid fire contempt that the Parisians seems to use as a weapon against we ros-bifs.
All this said it is always a joy to see a play of this quality and to wallow and roar at the genius of Coward at his very best.
Theatre Royal Brighton