THE OLD RED LION THEATRE, ISLINGTON
A brief but spirited marriage of two one-act plays by the Master is lifted by its music.
Noel Coward’s writing may be clever and stylised, but there’s a danger in trying to ‘do’ his plays solely as period pieces, complete with clipped, Coward-style vocal mannerisms. Director Jimmy Walters has largely, but not completely, avoided this problem with Proud Haddock’s double bill of one-act plays, which both deal with the sticky subject of adulterous affairs, real or imagined.
The scene is set with great aplomb by pianist and singer Tom Self, with the 1928 song Dance Little Lady, which ushers in We Were Dancing, a story of two strangers who fall passionately, but temporarily, in love over the course of a dance.
Lianne Harvey has a lovely, brittle brilliance as Louise Charteris, who can’t quite understand why everyone is being so beastly about her decision to ditch her husband and take up with a man whose name she can’t remember. John MacCormick is suitably stiff-upper-lipped about the whole business as Hubert Charteris, while James Sindall plays interloper Karl Sandys with cucumber-cool insouciance.
The second play, The Better Half, written when Coward was only 22, is in many ways a much more cynical piece, with bored wife Alice giving her dull husband a blistering talking-to about the tiresomeness of his being ‘splendid’ all the time, and shooing him into the arms of her adoring friend. This is pretty much a monologue for Tracey Pickup as Alice, who throws herself into the part with such vigour that she doesn’t leave herself much room to develop the role. But she’s a spirited and engaging performer, running rings around her dreary husband, played very much in the Prince Charles mode by Stephen Fawkes.
Beth Eyre quietly excels in both plays, dressed down but bringing commitment and conviction to her roles first as an outraged sister, and second as a woman in love with her friend’s husband.
The women look uniformly gorgeous in the clothes designed by Rosemary Elliot Dancs, and there is also some subtle lighting work from Philip Jones.
This isn’t an entirely satisfying evening, not least because it’s so short – both plays together amount to just over an hour. But it’s bright and entertaining, and the music gives it a sparky edge.
• Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1 4NJ
Until 29th August
Box office 0844 412 4307