Review by David Munro
THE Marquise is very much one of Coward's lesser works.
Written to fulfil a promise to Marie Tempest - a Grande Dame of
the Twenties' theatre - it was, as Coward admitted, tailored for
Marie Tempest's particular charms and mannerisms, and never really
had any life after its original production in 1927.
Both Margaret Lockwood and Evelyn Laye toured in it after the
last war, but neither took it into London. The last major production,
to date, was with Moira Lister, in 1981.
The plot is a typical Coward comedy of manners set in the 18th
Century, Raoul is the former lover of the Marquise and they have
a child, Adrienne, who is unaware of her parentage.
Raoul wants to marry Adrienne to Miguel, son of his best friend,
Esteban, but this pleases neither of the children; Adrienne loves
her father's secretary, and Miguel, a dancer in Paris.
The Marquise re-appears and sorts the children's problems out,
at the same time setting Raoul and Esteban at loggerheads, when
it transpires that she was mistress to both and is, incidentally,
the mother of Miguel.
All is finally resolved and the Marquise, having admitted she
is no Marquise, but has really earned her living as an actress,
is left with Raoul as she had intended from the outset.
This farrago of nonsense requires a very high standard of stylised
comedy acting, which is not in vogue in the 21st Century - as
the fairly dreadful recent revivals of Coward plays has shown.
Presumably, therefore, if the play has to be revived - which
I find questionable - it must be with an actress who can overcome
the artificiality of the plot and dialogue, and give some substance
and life to the part of the eponymous Marquise and, in Kate O'Mara,
the producer, Bill Kenwright, has found the perfect one.
From her first entrance, through the French windows of Tim Shortall's
gracious set, she dominates the cast and the play. Hers is a comedy
performance of the first order.
She litters the stage with Coward's throwaway one-line aphorisms;
produces a pair of pistols from her luggage with an insouciance
which defies logic; wears her period costumes as though they were
her everyday clothes, and generally manages to enchant the audience,
as well as the other characters, with a performance that is witty,
elegant and touching.
Luckily, for once, the rest of the cast are able to match her
performances with sufficient expertise to make Coward's fustian
situations believable and funny.
Dennis Lill's Count has just the right amount of phlegm and pomposity
to set off the shine of Miss O'Mara's artistry, and still make
his final curtains acceptance of his love for her realistic.
Michael Jayston's Esteban is a perfect foil for him in every
sense of the word.
The third act duel was a masterpiece of comic timing - and he
makes his third act escape from the Marquise, with a mental sigh
of relief, plausible.
The three young people are also in safe hands.
Zoie Kennedy is an Adrienne who is undoubtedly her mother's daughter,
in the same way that Ben Warwick is clearly the progeny of Esteban
and the Marquise.
Paul Fox, as the only child whose parentage is straightforward
and legal, is a perfect counterweight to the Marquise's mercurial
All their performances fit perfectly into the framework of the
play as dictated by Guy Retallack's direction, which pastes over
convincingly the holes in Coward's plot.
Even the rather thankless parts of Hubert the butler (Stephen
Chance), Father Clement (Michael Remick), who is forced to perform
the marriage ceremony at gun point, and the Marquise's maid, Alice
(Jenny Tomasin) do not come over as boring, as they must appear
on the written page. Coward domestics have a habit of existing
solely for plot purposes and little else.
However excellent all these performances are, and that they are,
the play still stands or falls by how convincing the Marquise
Having seen Kate O'Mara I cannot imagine anyone else in the part.
She justifies the resurrection of the play triumphantly with a
performance, which is really beyond praise, and I hope that she
will be rewarded with a long West End run if the production gets
Not many actresses nowadays can turn a minor Coward into a major
success. This Marquise is no imitation but full lustre forty-carat
The Marquise, by Noel Coward.
Director, Guy Retallack; Set and Costume Designer, Tim Shortall;
Lighting, Ben Ormerod; Sound, Simon Whitehorn; Fight Arranger,
WITH: Kate O'Mara, Michael Jayston, Dennis Lill, Zoie Kennedy,
Paul Fox, Jenny Tomasin, Ben Warwick, Michael Remick, Stephen
Producer - Bill Kenright.
Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Mon, April 5 - Sat 10, 2004.
Mon - Sat 7.45 pm Mat: Wed & Sat 2.30pm. Box Office: 020 8940