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By Noel Coward
Crestwell, the butler
Directed by Richard Neal
Designed by Chris Durham
Relative Values was Noel Coward’s first post-war comedy; it premiered in London in 1951. It is a satire about snobbery and class distinction. The young Earl of Marshwood comes home with his latest love, a young Hollywood actress called Miranda. Acts 1 and 2 focus on the efforts of the Countess of Marshwood to placate her maid, Moxie, who cannot tolerate the thought of an actress becoming mistress of the house. The fun begins when Moxie tells the Countess that Miranda is her much younger sister whom she has not seen for twenty years. In 1951 the critics were not that impressed by the play, judging it to be inferior to Coward’s pre-war comedies, but unanimously agreed that it had been rescued by the cast, led by Gladys Cooper. I am confident that Gladys Cooper would have been equally impressed had she seen this production. The designer, Chris Durham, has created a set that that magnificently conveys the atmosphere of a country house; it is most impressive for an amateur production.
The relationship between the Countess and her maid is crucial throughout the play; these roles were most ably portrayed by Sheila Dove and Caroline Burr respectively. The Countess wholly understands her maid’s misgivings and with the help of her nephew, the Hon. Peter Ingleton, and Crestwell the butler, a plan is hatched. Gary Paine has a great range of expressions that much enhance his characterisation of Peter Ingleton, while the portrayal of Crestwell by Chris Durham (designer and actor: very impressive) is on a par with every portrayal of a butler that has ever been made.
The action really takes off in Act 2 when we meet Hollywood actress Miranda Frayle in the company of her husband-to-be, the young Earl of Marshwood, played by Rob Cording with an appropriately aristocratic air. Miranda is played by Tracey Nicholls who successfully adopts an American accent to switch from her role as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice last year.
The final character to appear is Don Lucas (Sam Moulton), who is another film star and with whom Miranda has had a passionate relationship. He appears without warning at Marshwood House, seeking, despite having had several drinks, to reclaim his love from the Earl. There is always a scene in comedies such as this that remains in the memory after the final curtain. For me, in this production it is the conversation between the butler and Don when the star’s intentions have become evident.
This is a beautifully presented and most enjoyable performance. Wimborne Drama Productions present three plays each year. Wimborne, I am confident, eagerly anticipates the next one.
Philip Atlay, Scene One
The beauty of a Noël Coward play is that it is totally relaxing. You can wallow in the witticisms of the script, whilst being amused by his satirising of the British obsession with class.
A relatively long play - two hours, 45 minutes including the interval - its demands on the main members of the cast are huge.
Sheila Dove's pivotal role as Felicity, Countess of Marchwood, requires her to be on stage most of the time, but she rises to the challenge with supreme confidence, as the tough matriarch with a soft, although often hidden, centre.
The part of her ladies' maid, Moxie, requires pathos and comedy in equal measure and here Caroline Burr shines.
Gary Paine, with his subtle facial expressions and easy manner gets under the skin of the Hon Peter Ingleton, Felicity's nephew.
Butlers often get some of the best lines in plays, and here Chris Durham as Crestwell makes the most of his part, with subtle nuances.
Rob Cording has good stage presence as Nigel, Earl of Marshwood.
Tracey Nicholls proved in Shadowlands that she has no problems with an American accent, and here she is able to reprise it as Miranda, the Earl's fiancée, an actress with less than perfect credentials. As always, Tracey inhabits her character with high emotion.
Jan Stevenson and Anthony Wyld clearly enjoy their cameo roles of Lady Cynthia and Admiral Sir John Hayling as does Holly Boeva as Alice the housemaid.
Sam Moulton also provides well rounded characterisation as American film star Don Lucas.
The stage set is quite superb and worthy of a professional production so very well done to Chris Durham and Ken Fletcher and members of the company for this.
Accolades also to director Richard Neal who ensures the production not only tells the story, but moves at a pace to keep the audience interested.
A thoroughly enjoyable evening - it runs until this Saturday.
Marilyn Barber, Stour and Avon Magazine
Photographs: Tony Feltham and Richard Neal
Wimborne Drama Productions