I have to confess, after last year's Noel Coward centenary and a seemingly endless rash of revivals, I am, quite frankly, Cowarded out. This production of Semi Monde - playing cheek by Shaftesbury jowl with yet another Coward camp-out, Fallen Angels - has put the nail in the coffin of my waning interest.
Really, darling, I truly ache to adore it - honest, dear one. But it's all so frightfully boring. One just can't take it seriously.
But oh, pish-posh, let's not be so damnably cynical (it's hard to stop talking like that once you start, isn't it?). Semi Monde, directed and designed by Philip Prowse, has got some redeemable features. There's a great cast. Though Hitchcock old-timer Farley Granger pulled out (too embarrassed?), this ensemble piece still boasts some reliable stalwarts in the likes of Nichola McAuliffe, Georgina Hale, Simon Dutton and the stunning Sophie Ward.
And the actors spiff up wonderfully, all in black with 1920s-style slicked-back hair, DJs, ropes of pearls and flapper dresses with peek-a-boo bosoms (the women - the non-DJ'd ones, that is - resemble extras from a production of Chicago that had its hem lowered). There are also some cutting one-liners (isn't that the point of Coward, after all?).
But it's not enough, darling, not nearly. Written in 1926, Semi Monde, then considered too risqué, had to wait until Glasgow and 1977 for its first performance. Another 24 years later and it's now receiving its English premiere. Its status as an "undiscovered classic" does lend it a certain intrigue and freshness that other Coward works, re-hashed a thousand times, lack. But before long, it feels once again like the same-old, same-old.
Time: some vague span of months "between the wars" in an era when, as Coward puts it, "no wife dreamed for an instant of doing anything so banal as living with her husband". Place: the bar of the Paris Ritz. At least I think it's the Paris Ritz. The string of aristos, ex-pats and other miscellaneous miscreants come and go with such alarming frequency you'd be forgiven for thinking the setting was a platform at Charing Cross.
Almost as frequently, they lie, cheat, change sexual orientation, switch partners and bemoan their sorry, senseless state. The poor wee lambs. It's difficult to feel any sympathy for these characters, not just because they've got more money than sense, but also because they're so sketchy and caricatured that there's not much beyond their choice of cocktails to distinguish one from the next.
Oh, yes, although brief (despite two unnecessary, 15-minute intervals), Semi Monde also goes on for far too long. Sorry to be beastly, but I was damnably bored and irritated by the end.