NUDE WITH VIOLIN
Sacred Hearts Church Hall, Cheltenham
4th September 2012
Paris in the 1950s: the cultural capital of the world, a city of penthouse suites populated by cigarette-puffing socialites, where modern art typified the avant-garde and Joe Public deferred to expert opinion and accepted it unquestioningly. Into this acquiescent atmosphere, Noël Coward floated his whimsical comedy of manners Nude With Violin, or possibly Accents At An Exhibition, gently mocking the hypocrisies and pretentiousness surrounding the value of art, and our capacity to understand and appreciate it – or not.
Eminent artist Paul Sorodin has shuffled off this mortal coil, and his immediate family, along with several expectant hangers-on, gather to mourn, but confident of benefitting financially from his passing, their sense of anticipation heightened by the discovery of his supposedly last great masterpiece, Nude With Violin. Among them are a few diverse characters who identify themselves as the real creators of Sorodin’s work, none of which, it is revealed, he painted himself.
The Patesian Players’ upbeat production of this curiously neglected satire succeeds admirably in entertaining and amusing, rather than educating, although I defy you not to re-evaluate your own preconceptions about art, in particular divergences in taste and what distinguishes the excellent from the awful. The 14-strong cast carries it all off with confidence and panache, clearly relishing Coward’s witty and acerbic script, with stand-out performances from Amber Smith as the chirpy Cockney barmaid Cherry-May, and Chris Carter as Sorodin’s stentorian and irascible son Colin. Verity Wheable injects plenty of spirit as his whooping wife Pamela, there is a delightful cameo from young Jacob Pickering as Lauderdale, but it is anchorman Monty Kimball-Evans’ wonderfully engaging, General de Gaulle-ish portrayal of Sorodin’s scheming butler Sébastian which gives Rory O’Sullivan’s absorbing interpretation its decisive punch.
Parts of the dialogue, particularly the portions spoken in foreign languages, were lost in the hall’s acoustics, and the wooden stage occasionally re-echoed rather too loudly to the clatter of heavy footfalls. These were minor considerations, however, and my hope that their April 2012 presentation of Hedda Gabler would signal future quality productions from Cheltenham’s newest troupe has so far been fulfilled. An impressive oil-on-canvas, which the Master himself would have found “terribly, terribly good”.