According to director Giles Croft it was a chance meeting with them in the Playhouse bar after a show earlier in the year that led to him casting Janie Dee and Rupert Wickham in this hugely enjoyable comedy of manners. Chance it may be but there is certainly no real gamble involved in pairing this real-life husband and wife in one of Noel Coward’s most bankable plays.
Janie and Rupert play Amanda and Elyot, divorced for five years and now by the strangest of chances sharing adjacent balconies at a sumptuous hotel in France. Each now has a new partner and is about to share the first night of their honeymoon together.
It is clear from the start that the new relationships are doomed but watching Amanda and Elyot rekindle their still smoldering passion is tremendous fun.
As ever it remains a mystery as to how two such lively and charismatic characters end up hitched to such unsuitable new partners as Sibyl and Victor but the slightness of the plot – Coward knocked the play off in four days while getting over the ‘flu - never gets in the way of the wonderfully witty script.
It is dated, of course, and that is part of the pleasure. Smoking and lots of it on stage is such a shock to today’s audiences that they put up a warning sign in the foyer. There is also real physical violence between the couple which takes some of the shine off the sophistication and always has the power to shock but it always feels highly credible.
Played against Dawn Allsopp’s excellent sets, Dee and Wickham make the perfect pairing as they squabble and fall in love and out of it umpteen times a minute. Hard to believe this is their first professional partnership on stage since their marriage but on this evidence it should not be their last. Cheap music was never as potent as when Dee’s Amanda sings “Someday I’ll find you” and wins over the audience as well as her lover.
Wickham’s Elyot has a darker side to him which allows for some real menace alongside the charm and brings a welcome new dimension to the character. And I cannot quibble with Victoria Yeates rather silly Sibyl nor Marcus Hutton’s stolid Victor both of which complement the two central characters beautifully.