Coward's Six of the Best ..... the Boy Friend Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London 2hrs 30mins Including Two Intervals ..... ...Noel Coward's Tonight at 8.30 Chichester Festival Theatre Part I 3hrs Including Two Intervals Part II 2hrs 30mins Including Two Intervals

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Coward's Six of the Best ..... the Boy Friend Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London 2hrs 30mins Including Two Intervals ..... ...Noel Coward's Tonight at 8.30 Chichester Festival Theatre Part I 3hrs Including Two Intervals Part II 2hrs 30mins Including Two Intervals


Byline: GEORGINA BROWN

Chichester Festival is on a roll, with a rousing Carousel, a terrific Nicholas Nickleby and now Lucy Bailey's superb double bill of six playlets that powerfully illuminates the profound depths and witty shallows of Noel Coward's extraordinary talent to amuse.

Noel Coward's Tonight At 8.30 begins with the rather flat Red Peppers. Set in the dressing room of a mouldy provincial theatre, a vaudeville couple scrap and squabble as their act struggles, not helped by the orchestra conductor who is hitting the bottle and missing the beat.

The Astonished Heart, however, is a revelation, a penetrating psychological study of obsession. Leonora catches up with Barbara, some 17 years after being bullied by her at school. Leonora's revenge is to make Chris, Barbara's eminent psychiatrist husband, fall in love with her. With tragic consequences. A compelling and superbly acted production is almost sabotaged when Chris's face becomes distractingly smeared in Leonora's lipstick.

Family Album is a bit slight and sluggish. A spoof Gothic melodrama, it comes complete with false alarms and a selectively deaf butler.

As spinster Lavinia mourns the passing of her father, she finds her tongue loosened by the Madeira, and all her hidden truths tumble out.

In the better second part, Hands Across The Sea is a sublime comedy of bad manners. The telephone in Lady Maureen's salon never stops ringing and guests, a tradesman and squiffy old chums are variously corralled on to sofas, bound in chairs and strangled by the telephone cord.

The strikingly misogynistic Fumed Oak fascinatingly pre-empts John Osborne's work.

Everything in it is brown - the furniture, the clothes, the mood. No wonder Henry is so browned-off that he explodes, mercilessly laying into his pinched wife, snivelling daughter and critical mother-in-law.

Finally, in the cleverly surreal Shadow Play, a bed becomes a car, then a train. Dream and reality become confused when Simon asks for a divorce and his despairing wife Vicky slips back, in musical interludes, to the early, ecstatic days of their courtship: 'You were there, I saw you and my heart stopped beating. …

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Coward's Six of the Best ..... the Boy Friend Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London 2hrs 30mins Including Two Intervals ..... ...Noel Coward's Tonight at 8.30 Chichester Festival Theatre Part I 3hrs Including Two Intervals Part II 2hrs 30mins Including Two Intervals
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