Set in 1951, but actually Coward's final play written in the 1960s, Star Quality takes us behind the scenes of a new play “Dark Heritage” whose leading lady is the fading yet still magnificent Lorraine Barrie. From her first meeting with the naïve author Bryan through rehearsals steered by up-and-coming director Ray we follow her fortunes through to first night.
Lorraine is a caricature of the self-centred and demanding star who needs everything around her to dance to her tune but who meets her match in a director determined to have his own way even at the expense of undermining his most bankable asset.
Set against a background of read-throughs, rehearsals and time spent in dressing rooms Star Quality is a dated cliché of ham actors, back-stage bitchiness and inflated egos.
There are touches of the author’s sublime way with words: “He lights the scenery, not the actors... poor Rita Devon had more lines on her face than in the script" wrung an amused ripple from the audience but it’s a poor Coward production that relies on slapstick to get real laughs as when one of the cast backs into a deliberately misplaced prop and later puts in a trip on his exit.
Billed as a “wickedly funny comedy” it is, alas, nothing of the sort with little in the way of laughter along the way. Originally a short story Coward reworked the idea into this full length play in 1967 but it was never produced in his lifetime and it would perhaps have been fairer to his memory if it had been allowed to stay that way.
The cast do their very best with the poor material with Gay Soper’s maid Nora and Anthony Houghton’s Tony particularly worthy of mention but they appear to be characters from much better Coward plays who have unwittingly wandered into a lesser production.