One cannot expect to attend a play about Noel Coward and Gertie Lawrence and not receive a heaped dose of witty repartee; naturally, Noel and Gertie doesn’t disappoint on that level, liberally doused as it is with excerpts of the playwright’s own work.
A thoroughly enchanting two hours, Noel and Gertie is splendidly performed by Ben Stock and Helena Blackman, pulling the audience through their history from first meeting as touring theatre children to the inevitable culmination of their story.
Helena Blackman is beautiful - doll-like even - under the lights. Close your eyes and listen to the lilting trills as she sings and you can practically hear a ghostly gramophone needle scratching. Ben Stock is a brilliant foil, dancing between Coward’s acerbic humour and gentle admiration of his almost life-long working partner.
However, despite the superb performances – and they truly are so – there is something too on-the-surface, something a little too superficial about Noel and Gertie. The audience is less viewer, more silent interviewer, party to an almost coy rendition of their relationship: all glitter and little depth. Essentially, it feels an idealised presentation of two performers rather than the reality of two friends.
There are a few moments that hint at the less perfect aspects of both lives and the occasional rift; the cross-channel argument about a role for example, conducted entirely by telegram, or the passing mention of Gertie’s bankruptcy hearing. But these are all too short. It does feel at times little more than a Noel Coward revue with occasional biographical fillers to roll one from song to song.
The excerpts from his actual plays are, of course, sublime. Acted to a tee by Ben Stock and Helena Blackman, the tantalising snippets simply drive home the desire to watch the pair play the entirety of each role, whether that be Small Talk, Private Lives, or any of Coward’s immense repertoire written for Gertie herself.
Atmospheric and genuinely lovely, Noel and Gertie may be let down a little by the script but is buoyed by crisply-accented performances. One to catch.