Noël Coward is probably best summed up by the inscription on his memorial stone in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey: “A talent to amuse”
His plays have often set him apart from other writers. From writing female characters as equally as strong and witty as the male characters in his work, to not always adhering to a classic happy ending in his stories, he shines at showing real people in heightened theatrical scenarios. Of Coward, Terence Rattigan stated – “He is simply a phenomenon, and one that is unlikely to occur ever again in theatre history.”
Noël Coward has long been a staple of the British theatre and The Rep has performed many of his great works over the decades.
Noël Coward was born on 16th December 1899, made his first professional stage appearance at the age of 12 and stared writing seriously in 1914.
It was not until 1924 that he made his name as an actor and playwright when he wrote, directed and starred as Nicky Lancaster in The Vortex. This was swiftly followed by Fallen Angels (1925), Hay Fever (1925) and Easy Virtue (1926) – for which he also wrote the silent screen titles for the Hitchcock film (released in 1928).
Hay Fever, a cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, was the first of Noël Coward’s plays to be produced at The Rep, appearing first in 1933 – the first year at Beresford Street.
Noël Coward said :- “It has certainly proved to be a great joy to amateurs, owing, I suppose, to the smallness of its cast, and the fact that it only has one set, which must lead them, poor dears, to imagine that it is easy to act. This species of delusion being common to amateurs all over the world, no word of mine shall be spoken, no warning finger of experience raised, to discourage them, beyond the timorous suggestion that from the professional standpoint Hay Fever is far and away one of the most difficult plays to perform that I have ever encountered.”
Hay Fever was a West End triumph for Coward. It was the first of a string of comedies which continue to be revived by professional and amateur companies alike. Private Lives (performed by The Rep in 1966), Blithe Spirit (Rep productions in 1972 and 1999) and Present Laughter (previously performed at The Rep in 1964 and 1996)must be among the most performed plays of the last hundred years around the world.
The Rep also ventured into the world of Coward with productions of Nude With Violin (1959), Fallen Angels (1989) and Waiting In The Wings (2016) along with Tonight At 7.30 – performed in 1982 – featuring two (Fumed Oak and Still Life (filmed as Brief Encounter)) of the nine short plays from Tonight At 8.30 written by Coward as a vehicle for himself and Gertrude Lawrence to star.
In our latest production, we once more return to one of Noël Coward’s enduring masterpieces – Present Laughter – a cross between the style of Downton Abbey and the farcical comedy of Ray Cooney.
In these times of harsh reality, perhaps Coward’s appeal lies simply in his ability to give us access to a world of charm, wit and shameless theatrical artificiality. The production runs from the 7th – 11th June, 2022.
In a quote from Noël Coward himself: “You ask my advice about acting? Speak clearly, don’t bump into the furniture and if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday” – we hope that all but the last is true (there are no pay packets unfortunately – we do it for the love of theatre!)