Playwright, composer, director and performer Noël Coward was known for his flamboyance and comedic wit – two things that are missing from this ‘naughty’ night from Proud Haddock Productions.
It comprises two of Coward’s plays – We Were Dancing(1935) and The Better Half (1921) – that both concern extramarital affairs. In the former, a married woman falls in love with a man she’s just met, though they soon realise they have nothing in common and their spark soon fizzles. In the latter, a woman is stuck in an unhappy marriage and encourages (in a back handed manner) her husband to embark on an affair. Both plays, then, explore the superficiality of marriage and the impossibility of women, set in the elegant high society of so much of Coward’s work. The women are in control and the men merely helpless pawns in their love games.
The total running time is just over an hour for both plays, meaning these are little more than frivolous sketches. Together they parallel one another and suggest an overarching theme, but even in the short running time they feel like one joke stretched out. These are far from Coward’s best work – if anything they are a snapshot back in time, providing an intriguing look into his lesser known work, whilst failing to prove their relevance.
Each play is led by an excellent performer. Lianne Harvey amuses as Louise Charteris in We Were Dancing, evoking a naïve and hopeless romantic caught between two men – her past and future. In The Better Half, Tracey Pickup offers a tour-de-force performance as Alice, setting a frantic pace that drives the narrative flow. And in both plays Tom Self provides some musical accompaniment using Coward’s own songs. As a whole, though, the cast lack the chemistry to really bring out the comedy, producing titters rather than laughter from the audience. The two plays are bizarre and the performances border on eccentric – but the night as a whole is not bizarre or eccentric enough to really come alive.
Watch: A Naughty Night with Noël Coward runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 29th August.
Photos: Ben Coverdale