Preview by Paul Nelson
JERMYN Street Theatre has announced the 20th anniversary production
of Noel and Gertie, the musical biography of Noel Coward and Gertrude
The show was devised and will be directed by Sheridan Morley (pictured above), and may I here state that it is the best evening in the theatre Morley has ever created, and he should be justly proud. Whether or not that is because Coward was his godfather is a moot point, what matters is what you see on stage.
Noel and Gertie features many of the popular scenes from Coward's works, including the balcony scene from Private Lives, extracts from Blithe Spirit, the film Brief Encounter and his skit on the variety theatre, Red Peppers. Both these last are from Tonight at 8.30, a tour de force of nine one act plays in which both Coward and Lawrence played three different roles each night until the nine plays had been performed, then repeated them in a cycle that must have exhausted both.
Alongside the extracts from plays, are some of Coward's best known songs from his musicals, including 'Someday I'll Find You', and his revues and specialty songs. These include 'Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs Worthington' and 'Why Must the Show Go On?.
The appeal of Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence is extremely difficult to explain to a modern audience, even a switched on modern theatre audience of today.
I am fortunate to have seen both tread the boards. I have reservations about Coward, but Lawrence made one feel that her feet never made contact with the stage, she shimmered, and I only saw her in a dreadful Daphne du Maurier play, September Tide. In that play there was a scene where she had to cook an omelet for her man, and that is all that it was, it could easily have been cut, but it gave the audience a chance to see their beloved doing nothing but enchant them, and, incidentally, her leading man.
Coward and Lawrence looked rich, they were certainly elegant, they sang, they danced, not necessarily brilliantly but delightfully, and almost everything they said and did was eagerly reported in the smarter pages of the Press of the day.
A modern equivalent could possibly be David and Victoria Beckham, though they simply do not match up in either the talent or taste stakes. Maybe their Hollywood equivalents were Astaire and Rogers, but the extraordinary thing is that Coward and Lawrence ruled the West End for only about six years. Today, with everyone becoming a millionaire with either one film performance or a football goal, it sounds a puny record. Nevertheless, they were incredible.
Their fame as a pair largely rested on two productions only, Private Lives and Tonight at 8.30, neither of which ignited the box office to create long runs. You have to offset this by the fact they were also rather grand in that they would only appear for a certain preconceived time, thereby shortening the run of the play. I have never figured that out, maybe Mr Morley could shed some light on it.
Which brings me back to the evening at the Jermyn Street Theatre. The show Noel and Gertie was first produced in Hong Kong in 1982. Er, I can't explain that.
However, since then it has been seen all over the place. I last saw it at the Grace Theatre in Battersea, a production which was marred by off-key singing, not that Lawrence had perfect pitch I hastily add.
I remember at the time writing that the evening with all its faults was spellbinding. Again, hats off to Morley.
The current production of the piece, which will be directed by the author/compiler, I'm never sure which comes first, the chicken or the egg, features Annabelle Leventon and John Watts.
Having been previously exposed to this delightful amalgam, I can unhesitatingly recommend it and will report on it in due course.
Noel And Gertie, compiled and directed by Sheridan Morley, Musical Director Stuart Pedlar, Choreography by Irving Davies. Presented at the Jermyn Street Theatre, August 19 - September 7, at 8.pm NOT Sundays. Tickets 020 7287 2875.