A SELF-PROCLAIMED handsome male lead living on increasingly borrowed time under the attentions of doe-eyed girls and unstoppably obsessive male worshippers takes refuge in a flight to Africa only to have everything – complete with ex-wife and bickering management – come crashing down around him.
The self-centred world of theatrical stardom and upper-class marital infidelity provided rich pickings for Noel Coward to the point where, in his plays and songs, he frequently slid into self-parody.
This production – clearly the result of a lot of hard work and effort – seems to take that parody and heighten it further to the point of an elongated comedy skit.
The cut glass accents, the mannered poses and camp outbursts are all pumped up to a point way beyond believability. Any sense that the play is gently lampooning a few decidedly English stereotypes is lost in a welter of overacting the overacting. These are truly larger-than-larger-than-life characters.
Ironically, though not surprisingly, the characters who come across best are those which steer clear of outright parody. Sue Moore’s life-worn but razor-sharp secretary Monica is excellent throughout, remaining grounded amid the chaos and posturing, delivering scathing one-liners and even managing to convey with a last look that these horribly egotistical people actually stir something approaching love.
Christopher Bird’s valet Fred is equally welcome as an oasis of sanity and normality and Jessica Newborough as the matinee idol’s estranged wife also treads a pleasingly astute path through the rampant overacting around her.
In truth though this production is somewhat hampered by a lack of clarity in the delivery of lines and a similar lack of crispness in picking up cues which rob it of pace and ultimately a lot of the comedy. It’s not without its funny moments but another coat of gloss and slickness would cut ten minutes of the running time.
The staging allows for only one place to sit so each intimate encounter or larger conversation becomes a ballet of constantly shifting and very distracting moves. It’s colourful and frenetic but not that clearly focused.
Whether audiences younger than a certain age can still find comedy and common ground in the mannered offerings of this era is a moot point, but the way to attract interest perhaps should lie more in getting them to laugh with, rather than at, Coward’s world and the message it conveys.
The production runs until June 18. Visit www.lofttheatrecompany.com for tickets and full performance details.