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by Noel Coward
Daphne Stillington : Claire Hutton
Directed by Richard Neal
NOEL Coward’s semi-autobiographical comedy is a slice of life concerning a few days in the life of a self-obsessed comic actor as he prepares to sail off to an African tour. He is beset in his efforts to perform such preparations by the comings and goings of the various people in his life as the story descends into farce in the latter second half.
As the main protagonist, Garry, Sam Moulton is exceptional and totally encapsulates the soul of the part, whilst avoiding the temptation to go too “Coward-esque”. He is playing a man, an actor, who it seems can’t stop acting, but is in fact totally true to who he is; it’s just that everybody around him assumes he can’t stop acting. There are times when I write reviews that the “Star of the Show” is not necessarily the main character, but, in this case, it so very much is.
That said, however, the quality of the supporting cast is right up there with him. We meet lovelorn fans, whom Garry cannot resist taking advantage of, in the form of the young Daphne, (a fine Claire Hutton) and Joanna. In Joanna, Tracey Nicholls gives us a Femme Fatale performance that would truly get the 1940s audiences pulses a-racing. Another lovelorn fan, Roland Maude, is wonderfully quirkily played by Calum Hearne. He produced lots of laughs for me.
Another love interest is the not-quite ex-wife, who proves to be Garry’s main emotional support with a skin as thick as an armadillo. A superb performance throughout from Penny Pearson.
A lot of the comedy in these middle class romps comes from the “help”. This also does not disappoint, where we have two wonderfully contrasting characters in the dour German maid, Miss Erikson, beautifully underplayed by Judy Garrett, and the quirky butler Fred, a perfect fit for the skills of Michael J Smith whose entrances always produced a “What’s he going to say or do next?” murmur.
Alongside them, we have Garry’s secretary, Monica. I very much enjoyed the beautifully measured performance of Boo Feltham here. An undercurrent of love for her boss was there, but not pushed.
Able support from the, for want of a better expression, “smaller” roles comes from Heather Seaton (Lady Saltburn – Daphne’s mum) and Tony Parkinson as Garry’s manager/agent Morris. Another measured performance which I found to be totally natural and very well performed was that of Paul Dodman, playing Henry, a show producer and the husband of Joanna.
The chemistry between all the characters is palpable, which rarely happens purely by accident. Hats off to director Richard Neal for creating a cohesive feel all around the stage.
Word must also go out for the costumes, which were so very right for the time and really must have helped the cast get into character, as they all so clearly did.
If I have a niggle (and, let’s face it, dear reader, I usually do) it’s that the largely impressive set was a bit let down by the obviousness of the hardboard used to make the arches over doorways. A bit of masking tape and a lick of paint usually covers up such flaws and gives a smoother effect to the scenery. But that could have been by design for all I know, not being a 1940s décor aficionado.
The play runs again tonight (21st) and tomorrow (22nd) at 7:30, with a matinee tomorrow at 2:30. Go and see. I do think you should, my dear.
Chaz Davenport, Scene One
Wimborne audiences were last week able to languish in the England of the 1930s in this semi-autobiographical Noel Coward classic.
Once again the group were meticulous with the detail of the stage set and glam costumes.
The story centres around Garry Essendine an actor who is about to embark on a tour in Africa.
Vain, irritable, selfish and often unkind, he nevertheless attracts the admiration of those close to him - particularly women.
So much so that they all want to accompany him on the tour!
Sam Moulton was outstanding in this part which is particularly challenging as there is so much script to learn and he was following in the footsteps of the author who played the part in the original run.
First there is Daphne (Claire Hutton) who stays the night, because she ‘lost her latch key’.
Penny Pearson is deliciously superior and assured as Liz who is still very possessive of her ex-husband.
Tracey Nicholls lights up the stage with her characterisation of Joanna, who is married to Henry, is having an affair with Morris and adores Gary.
Judy Garrett was suitably distant and shuffling as the maid Miss Erikson and Michael J Smith clearly enjoyed his role as the jaunty elderly valet Fred.
Gary’s secretary Monica has the measure of her boss, and in the part Boo Feltham is splendidly dismissive of his posturing. Calum Hearne elicits much merriment as playwright Roland, who also idolises Gary.
Paul Dodman as Gary’s manager Henry, Tony Parkinson as friend Morris and Heather Seaton as Lady Saltburn also put in good supporting performances.
Noel Coward’s plays are not to everyone’s taste, but director Richard Neal ensured it was well cast and rehearsed for a production that requires split second timing as the action moves into farce.
Marilyn Barber, Stour and Avon Magazine
Photographs: Tony Feltham