Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 2nd September, 2013
The curtain goes up on Paul Farnsworth’s elegant set, the London flat of Julia and Fred Sterroll. I say ‘flat’ it wouldn’t be out of place as a room in a stately home. It’s all whites and golds and classical pillars. At home among this luxurious decor, Julia (Jenny Seagrove) reads snippets from the paper while husband Fred (sitcom stalwart Daniel Hill) utters ripostes between mouthfuls of breakfast. It’s all what you expect from a Noel Coward. The dialogue fizzes like champagne. Roy Marsden directs his cast to be as energised as possible to keep the delivery effervescent. Also, the playwright’s umistakable turn of phrase is evident with every epigram. The Sterrolls have appointed a new ‘treasure’, their maid and factotum Saunders (Gillian McCafferty) who turns out to be something of an insufferable know-it-all.
Trouble comes when Julia’s friend Jane (Sara Crowe) brings news that the women’s former lover, Maurice, is coming to town. They fear their former indiscretions will come to light and at first plan to flee the city to evade exposure. But the allure of Maurice is too strong to resist. They decide instead to wait in for him, hoping to spice up their lives, which after ten years of marriage, have become too staid and complacent.
The second of three acts moves from Coward’s coruscating wit and turns into a hilarious display of physical comedy as Seagrove and Crowe become increasingly intoxicated, going from silliness and raucous fun to resentment, aggression and even violence. It is an absolute treat to behold.
At long last Maurice shows up – Philip Battley, as dapper and suave and cosmopolitan as you’d expect, and helps his former flings to cover their tracks. Their husbands are, for the most part, gulled. It feels like the pilot episode of a situation comedy; you can imagine the women getting up to all sorts of fun with the Frenchman, and the husbands being fobbed off with all kinds of far-fetched explanations.
The show is a froth, a confection, with perhaps some kind of admonition to married couples not to let things becomes stale. The husbands, Daniel Hill and Robin Sebastian, are appropriately stuffy and stuck-up. Philip Battley is instantly charming. Gillian McCafferty is superb as the clever-clogs maid. But the piece belongs to the two main players. It is absolutely delightful to see mature actresses having the run of the stage, flexing their comedic muscles, verbally and physically. Seagrove and Crowe are the carbonation in this overflowing bottle of bubbly.