A Song at Twilight by Noel Coward
Director: Nikolai Foster
Musical Director: Tom Deering
Reviewer: William Avenell
Not being an afficionado of Noel Coward’s plays but liking the wittiness and style of his musical work I was not quite prepared for the veiled undertone of betrayal and arrogance in this piece, albeit with some very witty lines. Apparently Coward wrote this as a vehicle for a last ‘swan song’ as an actor on the London Stage in the nineteen sixties and there is a strong moral tone underlying the (sometimes) sparkling dialogue, particularly in the way the play deals with loyalty and sexuality. Forty years on would the sentiments be the same?
An ageing, successful author (Peter Egan) waits to meet an old actress flame, the vibrant Carlotta (Belinda Lang), in his hotel suite in Switzerland. Why has she instigated this reunion after many years? There must surely be an ulterior motive. Of course there is, skilfully introduced over dinner, causing consternation and soul searching with a nice twist at the end involving the reaction of his wife (Kerry Peers).
The set was simple(designed by Matthew Wright) as it needed to be with just 4 actors operating in an unchanging hotel sitting room. However, it gave the important and unmistakeable impression of hotel living which was reinforced by the snatches of piano (written and played by Tom Deering) drifting in and out.
The performances were mixed. I have to confess that after the first 20 minutes I was beginning to question the wisdom of the trip at all. Of course the scene has to be set but Peers and Egan, playing against each other for the first part, were dreadfully laboured. The waspishness of Coward’s lines was often lost in a mixture of over aggressive playing separated by some long pauses and with the added irritation of the rather strange accents of Peers and the young waiter (Daniel Bayle). But then on came Lang and my mood changed instantly. For one second I feared she was going to over play it, but not so, and she lifted the whole production with her portrayal of Carlotta which combined an entertaining mixture of sophistication, tartiness and in the second act wistful regretfulness.
In that second act Egan continued to disappoint slightly. Admittedly he was playing a pompous character but he did so in too pompous a way for me and the pauses, rants and grimaces were not to my taste at all. Peers on the other hand, perhaps because she was playing with Lang in the second part, gave a far more convincing performance receiving the longest round of applause of the evening for one particular tirade and ending the play on a strong note with her final disclosure.
Is it a good night out? It was a bit long, slow to get going and in need of some tightening up. But if you enjoy Coward’s wit and want to see an actress deliver that wit with some impeccable timing and light up a stage with her charismatic presence then Lang is worth the entrance money on her own.
A song at Twilight’runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday 14th March 2009.