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Tonight at 8.30 (Nuffield Theatre, Southampton)

''Tonight at 8.30'' is a feast of pure entertainment, and a celebration of three of Coward's rarely seen short plays

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Tonight at 8.30 - Gyuri Sarossy

It is not every day that we get such a feast of pure entertainment. Tonight at 8.30 is a series of short plays, written and originally performed by Noel Coward, although rarely brought to the stage since 1936. Now, though, they are back thanks to a collaboration between Nuffield and English Touring Theatre.

The series is split into three shows for theatregoers to choose between, or they can all be seen in succession on Saturdays. Director Blanche McIntyre and a cast of nine have done a sterling job putting on all these short plays. They are varied to say the least, but they show Coward at his finest.

There is a little something for everyone. From vaudeville to satire; from love at first sight to a rather jovial funeral. Brief Encounter fans will enjoy Still Life, on which the film is based. This isn't to say that Coward couldn't write some bleak pieces. The Astonished Heart takes a rather dark turn, and Fumed Oak is a hard hitting social drama.

Each cast member is given a moment to shine. Shereen Martin and Gyuri Sarossy produce poignant performances as the lovers Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey in Still Life. Orlando Wells gives an unsettling performance as the heartbroken lover in The Astonshed Heart. So does Peter Singh as the hen-pecked husband who takes delicious revenge on his wife in Fumed Oak. Daniel Crossley and Amy Cudden, meanwhile, provide a raucous vaudeville act in the Red Peppers.

If forced to choose between the three trios, I would recommend the third. They saved the best till last. It shows the ensemble at their finest during Family Album, an oddly surreal funeral scene where the family jovially sings, dances and reminisces about their childhood. Hands Across the Sea is laugh out loud hilarious. It follows Kirsty Besterman as socialite Maureen Gilpin, who tries to handle dozens of acquaintances while struggling to remember who they are.

What better way to celebrate Noel Coward than with these rarely seen short plays? Each one brings their own flavour to a cocktail of theatrical delights, supported by a top-notch cast. A treat I would recommend.