This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.
Noel Coward was so adept at slipping risqué messages under the radar of the Lord Chamberlain, that it becomes easy to overlook how “naughty” he may have been. From the perspective of his own unconventional (for his day) lifestyle, he became a wry observer of the couplings and uncouplings of the filthy rich in the interwar years. Neither of the two featherlight playlets presented here by Proud Haddock productions comes anywhere near Coward’s astute examinations of relationships in, say, Private Lives or Design for Living, but both give insights into the frivolous lives of people with too much money to bother about being sensible, the types who would always find time for infidelity between trips to look after their interests in the colonies. We Were Dancing (1935), originally part of the Tonight at 8.30 play cycle, takes place in a country club somewhere in the tropics. Hubert (John MacCormick) walks into the club bar to find his wife (Lianne Harvey) dancing with another man and reacts as if he is witnessing adultery. It turns out that he is not far wrong. James Sindall is a joy as the other man, blithe and remaining oblivious to the married couple’s agonising. Stiff upper-lipped Hubert can do no more than ask his wife’s prospective lover “would you care to come back to the house and have a bath?” A slow scene change sees the country club become, rather neatly, a four-poster bed for The Better Half, written in 1921, but not discovered until 2007. In this menage à trois with a twist, Tracey Pickup’s ferocious, self-absorbed Alice has become so bored with her gentlemanly husband (Stephen Fawkes) that she uses every means at her disposal to persuade him to leave her for a woman who adores him (Beth Eyre). Apposite songs, taken from other Coward shows, are added to the mix to provide pleasant interludes. Director Jimmy Walters does not overdo the pastiche, seemingly realising that the playlets are already self-mocking and that Coward’s matchless wit is enough to get the laughs. The two playlets run together for no more than 70 minutes and Coward showed masterful judgement in not trying to stretch out either of them. By modern standards, they do not seem particularly naughty, but they are still quite nice.
Performance date: 11 August 2015