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.
Leave a comment | tags: Daniel Hill, Fallen Angels, Gillian McCafferty, Jenny Seagrove, Malvern Theatres, Noel Coward, Paul Farnsworth, Philip Battley, review, Robin Sebastian, Roy Marsden, Sara Crowe | posted in Theatre Review
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 7th August, 2012
This little-known Noel Coward piece was stashed away for decades because of its basis in real-life marital infidelities and so, to protect the guilty, has not seen the light of day until now.
The setting is the exotic Mount Fumfumbolo, which is a volcano and not a puppet in a kids’ TV show. On the side of this volcano, overlooking her banana plantations, widow Adela (Jenny Seagrove) enjoys solitude, the occasional company of her friends and a bit of a fling with louche Lothario, Guy (Jason Durr). He’s been chasing around the mountain but she, although in love with him, will not bump nasties with a married man. She keeps the lid on her simmering desire, you see, bit like the dormant volcano of the title.
Guy’s Mrs shows up and outbitches everyone at a tense little cocktail party. Were it not for the sultry, almost Tennessee Williams setting, this would be a run-of-the-mill suburban drama, with inferior epigrams and an unremarkable premise. However, in the second half, when the volcano blows its stack, the characters are thrown into physical as well as emotional crisis. Guy is unfaithful but not with Adela after all – he shacks up with young bride Ellen (Perdita Avery) in a shack, to take shelter from the eruption. Scratchy wife Melissa (Dawn Steele) rises above it all with some superior archness. Everyone seems to go back to England and poor Adela is left to reconstruct her homestead (three busted light bulbs and some overturned furniture) and finally ‘enjoy’ her solitude and her bananas. It is the calm after the storm, the aftermath of the outpouring.
Jenny Seagrove is elegant and likeable as Adela. Jason Durr is tanned and smarmy as Guy. I particularly liked Finty Williams as Grizelda. Most Cowardesque of the bunch is Robin Sebastian as her husband Robin. The cast keep on the right side of the ‘teddibly teddibly’ kind of delivery and Dawn Steele oozes arrogance and evil as uberbitch Melissa. Roy Marsden’s direction keeps the somewhat outmoded dialogue sparking along, although when the volcano blows, I would rather see a blackout than the dangling gantry of lights and the plastic plants being strewn across the stage.
It is a pity this play didn’t do the business when it was written in the 1950s. Being shoved in a drawer and forgotten denied it its initial impact and robbed it of becoming a theatrical milestone for its frank discussions of sex, morality and sexual politics. Now its time has passed. The world has moved on in more ways than one; the play is something of a curiosity rather than the cutting-edge discussion-provoker it should have been.
Leave a comment | tags: Dawn Steele, Finty Williams, Fumfumbolo, Jason Durr, Jenny Seagrove, Malvern Theatres, Noel Coward, Perdita Avery, review, Robin Sebastian, Roy Marsden, Volcano | posted in Theatre Review