The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham
29th August 2013
Noël Coward’s fine-spun comedy highlighting the explosive chemistry within two married couples holidaying in northern France will eminently satisfy the Master’s devotees, thanks to this sparklingly witty production that marks The Patesian Players’ continuing rise to local prominence.
Having divorced five years previously, Amanda Prynne and Elyot Chase suddenly find themselves sharing adjacent hotel rooms with their respective new spouses, and where the very antagonism which originally drove them apart prompts a rekindling of the old matrimonial flames. With renewed intimacy, and almost indecent haste, they decamp for Paris, leaving their bewildered better halves frantically following on behind.
The thoughtful casting brings together four strong talents and moulds them into an exquisitely costumed ensemble of upper class twits and accents, thus fashioning a splendid piece of period theatre which proceeds with all the stateliness of an ocean-going liner. Freddie Pope, whose set designing skills have created a decorous hotel balcony which converts to a stylish Left Bank apartment, was utterly convincing as the irascible Elyot, especially during the deliciously frothy squabbles of the second act. Capable débutant Mike Fay invested “poor dull Victor” with an engaging, Christopher Cazenove-ish persona that perfectly embodied the simpering, flannelled fools of the late 1920s. Tightly wrapped in a constricting grey dress, Hennie Ward nonetheless shone as quibbling Sybil, emerging from her cocoon of nervous newly-wed to strike several blows for girl power. Meanwhile, at the eye of the Parisian storms stood Jaina Patel as the exasperated maid Louise, fuming and fussing at the implacable ménage à quatre sparring around her and injecting substantial venom into that infamous French expletive “Merde!” Rosie Breckon, however, is one of those divinely gifted actresses who can command all attention and steal every scene, simply by being on stage. She is a female Eric Morecambe; whatever else is happening, regardless of its star quality, your expectant gaze is invariably fixed upon her, keenly anticipating her next quip or move. As the haughty, temperamental Amanda, she delivered a masterclass in clear diction, poise and sheer bitchiness, whilst her facial expressions throughout were an absolute picture. Her sumptuous purple evening gown was equally eye-catching.
Apart from some occasionally hurried and indistinct dialogue and the apparent absence of wedding rings, there was nothing to fault director Rory O’Sullivan’s latest enterprise with his Pate’s alumni. Adding extra value, producer Amber Smith joined forces with veteran crooner John Qualtrough during the interval in reeling off a delightful litany of era-defining songs, including Coward’s own Some Day You’ll Find Me, written specifically for this play. Terribly, terribly good.