Outstanding performance from a superb cast in Noel Coward’s Relative Values at Richmond Theatre

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Posted by May B on Tuesday 9th of July 2013

It was such a warm and sunny evening that we were able to sip our chilled drinks outside Richmond Theatre last night. While we crossed the road and enjoyed a few moments walking around the grass, others were taking advantage of the seats placed outside which is a new but welcome departure.

I like Noel Coward plays but I have to admit that with this cast, I would have been prepared to see just about anything. As it happens, the play crackled with sharp wit and the plot trotted along at a crisp pace. And we laughed. A lot.

Despite the Movietone news clips punctuating the scenes and reminding us that the play was written in 1951 – with the Great Exhibition on the South Bank, the Korean War and rationing – the plot felt alarmingly current. In essence, it is a comedy of errors about what happens when the aristocratic Lord of the manor decides to marry a Hollywood actress with a dubious past and the lives of those upstairs mingle with the folk downstairs. If you liked Downtown Abbey, but have a more sardonic outlook, you are going to love it.

Whilst acknowledging Patricia Hodge as a class act – and versatile with acclaimed work in everything from crime drama to comedy (personal favourites being “Life and Times of a She Devil” and more recently in “Miranda”) she was absolutely born to play Felicity, Countess of Marshwood. Her command of the part and her domination of the production were authoritative from the outset. She managed to convey the social divide without coming across as a one-dimensional snob.

But I won’t deny that Caroline Quentin – despite a bit of a shaky start – was excellent in the part of loyal maid Mrs Dora Moxton aka Moxie. In later scenes, her snap switches from meek maid for the lady of the house to rough and ready colleague with the butler were skilful.

Rory Bremner, in his theatrical debut, was quietly confident as Crestwell the butler managing to tread the fine line between cultured know-it-all with stiff formality, the unshakeable steel of a man of the world and warm confidant to his employers and colleagues. He was like the glue of the production – not obvious but absolutely necessary.

Other members of the cast deserve a mention too – Ben Mansfield as Don Lucas reminded me of Brad Pitt for some reason. Rebecca Birch as the house maid made a big impression in relatively brief appearances. Sam Hoare as Nigel, Earl of Marshwood was convincing as the bumbling young Lord. Katherine Kingsley as Miranda Frayle hammed it up a bit – but I guess that is to be expected from an actress playing an actress. It was interesting to note that just about every member of the cast lit up a cigarette during the play, reminding us how quickly things can move from fashionable to social suicide.

Both me and my companion were utterly rapt during the entire performance and thoroughly enjoyed it – finding very little that we didn’t absolutely adore. It’s only a shame that the run at Richmond isn’t longer. And I was a little disappointed that the audience was mostly of the mature variety, the younger generation would surely love Noel Coward’s brilliance and timelessness.

Relative Values is on at Richmond until Wednesday 10th July http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/relative-values/richmond-theatre/


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