The opening of Noel Coward's Fallen Angels at the Apollo Theatre puts it briefly cheek-by-jowl with another Coward piece, Brief Encounter (based on the screenplay he wrote for the 1946 film classic) at the Lyric, and is easily both the better play and production, though that isn't saying much. For one thing, it is at least a stage original, revealing genuine craft and comedy in the writing, and skill and sophistication in the playing, neither of which are qualities much in evidence next door.
Sometimes scintillating rather than sentimental, it is the kind of thing you can happily take your grandparents to. Anyone under 50, however, might consider it a mite old-fashioned, even if, in its day (it was originally produced in 1925), it proved controversial for suggesting that middle-aged women might crave the fantasy of a sex life outside of their dull, conventional marriages.
It provides a tour-de-force for the two women at its centre who are anxiously awaiting the sudden arrival of a former (and French) boyfriend of them both to arrive for dinner while their respective husbands are away, and wondering if the candle they've been burning for their old flame will be re-ignited. It is effectively a female version of The Seven Year Itch, coincidentally playing further along Shaftesbury Avenue right now, except that - women being more patient than men, generally - they're thinking about picking over the scab of a 12-year-itch instead.
Michael Rudman's handsome, somewhat old-fashioned production duly boasts star turns from two of our senior comedy actresses, Felicity Kendal ('The Good Life') and Frances de la Tour ('Rising Damp'). Age hasn't withered their sparkle or withering put-downs. De la Tour definitely has the comic edge, however, and its partly because she doesn't try to do the sex-kitten thing that Kendal still finds hard to resist but is increasingly undignified to see in someone in her mid-fifties. Instead, de la Tour's more a blazing comic panther from her first demented entrance, and she plays the key drunken scene that comprises most of the second act with far more finesse.
There's also a scene-stealingly improbable comic maid from Tilly Tremayne, who is clearly more sophisticated, better educated and well travelled than the people she is serving. She is also notably funnier than the woman employing her, played by Kendal.
This is sure to be a hit among the middle class, middle-aged theatregoers who are the West End's natural constituency. Those in search of more demanding fare, however, should look elsewhere.