Set against a decadent social backdrop in 1920s England, The Vortex follows the tempestuous relationship between middle-aged Florence Lancaster and her son Nicky. Florence’s appetite for young men is scorned by her hedonistic and effeminate son who yearns for her attention and disapproves of her apparent refusal to grow old gracefully. Originally staged in 1924, Coward’s play was surrounded by controversy and was saved from public censorship by Coward himself, who claimed the play was little more than a moral tract.
Felicity Kendal, who is best known for her television work, co-starring with Pam Ferris in Rosemary and Thyme and starring as the down to earth tomboy in the sitcom classic The Good Life, stars as Florence Lancaster, while Dan Stevens takes on the role of Nicky, a role Coward originally wrote for himself. Supporting performances come from Phoebe Nicholls, Annette Badland, Barry Stanton, Daniel Pirrie and Cressida Trew. Set design is by Alison Chitty, lighting by Paul Pyant.
Praise for this play went almost entirely to Noel Coward’s script which “still packs a punch more than 80 years on” and Felicity Kendal’s “tour-de-force performance”. Critics agreed that Kendal “mercilessly captures her character’s vanity and insecurity” and that “she is in sensational form”. Dan Stevens' portrayal of Nicky received a more varied response with some critics pointing to his “star quality and charisma” while others felt his performance was “bland” and underplayed. The supporting cast were also praised, particularly Phoebe Nicholls as the “tart and willowy” Helen. While praise for Coward’s work in providing “an evening that memorably moves from cocktails and laughter to the rawest of drama” was unanimous, Peter Hall’s revival was felt by some to be “underpowered”, partly due to Alison Chitty’s set design which was “functional rather than spectacular”. Despite these disappointments critics generally enjoyed a production that was “beautifully paced and well cast”.
- by Kate Jackson