Noel Coward’s 1925 weekend party comedy set in the Thames-side, Cookham retreat of the unhappy Bliss family might seem slight and gossamer thin, but it demands acting of innate style, grace and subtlety.
The wide open spaces of the Rose stage don’t help, but Stephen Unwin’s production, while robust and fairly enjoyable, is inappropriately lumpen and totally unglamorous.
Celia Imrie’s Judith Bliss, for instance, the melodramatic middle-aged actress poised between retirement and an unwise come-back, is brusque, stentorian and slightly batty, fully justifying Myra Arundel’s description of the host family as “artificial to the point of lunacy”; but she’s hardly the charming, flirtatious puss of Sandy Tyrell’s boyish, infatuated fancy.
The simple structure never fails to please: four weekend guests, battered and ostracised by the self-obsessed hosts, in three perfectly written acts (two intervals), with romantic confusions, funny lines and a torrential downpour.
Alexandra Gilbreath’s Myra is played with an over-emphatic, monotonous husky drawl, Holly Jones’s Jackie Coryton is gawky but faceless; only the fourth guest, Adrian Lukis’s Richard Greatham, the dim diplomatist, is played with any sort of attractiveness or comic timing.
Everyone seems to be in his or her own play. Joshua Maguire as young Simon gives an extravagant, unfunny display of camp histrionics, while Georgia Maguire as his sister Sorel comes on like a hippy Queen of the May. Stephen Boxer is a quietly tolerant David Bliss and Katy Secombe a stock, coarse housemaid with no sign of really being Judith’s dresser.