Whilst it’s not my favourite of Coward’s plays, this sharply observed look at life behind the scenes in the theatre world does have its share of his quick wit and cutting humour that is the hallmark of his work.
It’s weird to sit in a theatre, watching people on the stage pretending to be on the stage. In a nutshell, the play is about the petty politicking, empty flattery and snide back stabbing deployed to work the pecking order between a naïve young star struck author (Bryan Snow played by Bob Saul), a dispassionate not-taking-any-nonsense director (Ray Malcolm played by Daniel Casey) and his scene stealing camp sarong wearing “personal assistant” (Tony Orford) and a long in the tooth leading lady (Lisa Goddard playing Lorraine Barrie) – all of them with fragile and gullible egos.
At first I thought Gay Soper playing Nora (Lorraine’s maid) was channelling Mrs O from Acorn Antiques, but she quickly won my respect for her comic wisdom and pivotal understanding of the foibles of the various characters. Sarah Berger played Marion Blake – the “poor” actress that Lorraine has arranged to take a part in the production against the director’s better judgement – allegedly to make Lorraine’s acting appear so much better. Assuming this was the intention, she really did act well at acting badly.
It was nice to see how valuable cigarettes (and cigarette boxes) used to be as props – there was smoking in almost every scene, as well as the ubiquitous chaise longue which were not used as casting couches in this production.
The sound effects were effective at evoking the atmosphere of a new author frantically trying to rewrite scenes on a typewriter – through the night. There were some early great lines about the importance of “a great part versus a great actress” and another about poor lighting which lead to “more lines on his face than on the script”. Towards the end there was an interesting acerbic exchange about the value of women and men in theatre. There was also a fabulous flouncing exit with the immortal words “I shall be in my dressing room”.
Liza Goddard was luminous and her experience shone through. She was well cast. However, I seem to recollect her having more presence in the past and expected her to have a more dominant role in the play with a tour de force of simpering actress one moment and conniving prima donna the next.
I should mention that Bothwell the dog (Lola) – in her debut role – was perfectly behaved – and I would have liked to have seen more from her. Who knows, now that The Artist has swept the awards, maybe we will see more parts for lovely canines?
It was a shame that the theatre was only half full – and mostly with more mature theatre goers. It was two hours of harmless entertainment making us reflect on all the effort that that must be invested in putting on such a performance.