For the third year running, Peter Hall's Bath company have turned their attentions to a Noel Coward play, following last year's acclaimed production of Blithe Spirit, and the previous year's Design for Living, with Private Lives.
The play, directed by Thea Sharrock, is coupled with Much Ado About Nothing, and they both feature a battle between two star-crossed lovers.
I have to confess to being largely unmoved by Coward's 'talent to amuse’. Master craftsman though he was, his work seems as dead to me as the Elizabethan madrigal, to quote Philip Larkin, became to the British public.
The production though is crisp enough with a fine performance from Michael Siberry as Elyot and excellent support from Charles Edwards as Victor. Greta Scacchi, languorously plush as Amanda, lends glamour - if not quite enough bite.
Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan in a production directed by Howard Davies in the West End a few years ago were revelatory in the principle roles, forgoing the customary clipped accents and over-archness for an approach that made the play seem more modern and less an object of period curiosity. Siberry in particular wisely follows this approach, which pays off with a performance which never seems in thrall to Coward's own performances.
There is, supposedly, a darkness lurking beneath the surface glitter of Coward's writing, but in truth this doesn't extend much beyond a "can't live with them; can't live without them" view of l'amour. Put Elyot and Amanda, who are divorced as the play opens, in the same room and sparks, and indeed furniture, will fly. But their efforts to find a 'wiser', more 'comfortable' love is doomed to fail, as their new squeezes, Victor and Sybil, find to their cost.
The play runs out of steam somewhat in the second half, before gathering itself for a final assault on the collective funny bone. If Coward is your cup of tea, this production provides beguiling enough diversion and the opening set, by Peter Mumford, transports one to the French Riviera. What was he thinking of, though, with the Paris apartment setting? Vincent Price would have loved it.
- Pete Wood