A tropical night out with 'rediscovered' Noël Coward play...
Explosive isn't quite the word for this production of Noël Coward's 1956 play Volcano, never performed during his lifetime. Although racy by his previous standards, fashions had moved on by the time it was written. There is an inarguably solid aspect to it, bringing to mind the Rattigan revivals of last year (a writer also discarded by the kitchen sink trend) – perfectly competent, but mid-century values stand in the way of real emotional connection.
Yet on a summer's evening, warm enough for me to question the wisdom of being inside a theatre, it was pleasant to be gently transported to a fictional Caribbean island lawn-party, and watch people with servants drink things with ice in them – a witty period drama with a tropical setting.
Heartbeat star Jason Durr and Jenny Seagrove as womaniser Guy Littleton and widow Adela Shelley. Photo: Keith Patterson
That abstract exoticism was never quite matched by the unfolding drama however. The sexual politics resonate but only up to a point, with the central character Adela's repressed, self-preserving stance feeling a little papery to really move. The rest of the cast's emotional quandaries are a touch lightly written for much punch too, though I was never bored. The best bits were the most jovial, Coward's quips somehow keeping an aura of reality to the whole thing, and the cast did a decent job.
Most interesting is probably the play's alleged inspiration, (nicely illuminated in his Artsdesk article by Coward biographer Philip Hoare), the affair between Ian Fleming and Blanche Blackwell (mother of Island records founder Chris), which occurred on Coward's doorstep in his retirement retreat on Jamaica. However captivating they might have been, his circle of A-listers from the mid-50s are not really alive in this piece.
The Later years: Noël Coward in 1972. Photo: Allan Warren
I quite enjoyed the stage-shaking eruption – although perhaps not party to the highest of budgets, like the drama's plantation backdrop it was far enough away from anything likely to happen on the humdrum summer streets outside.
Volcano is at the Vaudewille Theatre London until 29 September. Read reviews and book tickets here.
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- Opera & Dance