Cowardly Behavior

January 30, 2010

Caomhan Keane does the decent thing and takes in two slabs of Noel Coward.

A Brief Encounter, UGC Cinema Haymarket
The Vortex, Apollo Theatre

A very British romance, A Brief Encounter is the tale of Laura and Alec, whose adulteress romance wilts beneath the grimace of their own stiff upper lip.

Seeped in nostalgia of times gone by, where films were “talkies” and accompanied by live music, this staging with-a-cinematic-twist at the UGC Cinema Haymarket is the perfect way to make it up to your dear old Nan for sending her to that home.

After being guided to your seat by ushers in traditional 40s dress, and serenaded by the house band singing Coward hits, the lights go down, spotlights blink and the actors rise from their surprising starting positions in the audience.

Heart lifting musical numbers melt into magical montages as characters hop in and out of the makeshift screen, mashing up scenes between David Lean’s breakthrough film and Coward’s original play.

Amanda Lawrence, Tamzin Griffin and Stuart McLoughlin are magnificent in their supporting roles as workers in the train station cafe where the lovers meet.

And there’s the added benefit for the actors by performing largely to an audience that remember the hits from the first time round.

But it’s by no means perfect. As the leads, Tristian Sturrock and Naomi Fredrick are tired, failing to convey the required tragedy of their romance.

However, were it not for the amount of reconstructed hips and brittle bones in the room, I have no doubt director Emma Rice would have received a standing ovation at the curtain call.

Less impressive is the more traditionally staged The Vortex at the Apollo Theatre in Soho. Having ranted about diction in the press recently, director Sir Peter Hall should really have paid more attention to that of his own actors. For while every nuance is heard in this production, very little is said with real emotion.

A savage critique of the post war social set, The Vortex tells the tale of Florence Lancaster (Felicity Kendall), an aging beauty who is only as young as the boy she feels…and Tom is 24.

So is her son Nick (Dan Stevens), home from a debauched year in Paris with fiancée Bunty Mainwaring (Cressida Trew) on his arm and God knows what up his nose. When it emerges that Tom and Bunty are old friends the end is nigh for both sets of lovers. That shouldn’t matter, with Coward it’s how it’s done that counts.

And here, it’s done badly.

Felicity Kendell’s performance doesn’t fly to hysterics, it lives there. Her dialogue is over emoted and she never makes us believe in it.

Dan Stevens looks no more addicted to cocaine then he is interested in men. Barry Stanton and Annette Badland are fine as Florence’s bitchy friends, but Phoebe Nicholls, as the voice of reason, and Cressida Trew as Mainwaring are so detached from the text it’s as if they’re in another production.

The play itself has lost none of its bite but the lack of any true emotion in this production means it fails to break the skin.

Pictures – top: A Brief Encounter; bottom: The Vortex.


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