This particular milch cow has been milked dry!

Review by David Munro

AUGUST 26 is the 16th anniversary of the first production in London of Noel and Gertie, and, according to the programme, the 20th of its birth in Hong Kong.

Since then, it has been revived remorselessly throughout the country and produced (with Twiggy) in New York.

It is essentially a pot pourri of Noel Coward's words and music scattered over a brief resume of the life, times and performances of Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. The emphasis is therefore on the Thirties and the shows in which they acted together, Private Lives and Tonight at 8.30.

Considering their lifelong friendship and the fact that Coward wrote his first major song for Gertrude Lawrence, Parisian Pierrot in a revue London Calling in the 20's, it is surprising that they only ever acted together in one play and a series of playlets in both instances for limited runs.

No one can recapture their performances and glamour and Annabel Leventon and John Watts do not to their credit, aspire to do so. The problem that Sheridan Morley has failed to dispel is that their two appearances together do not add up to a full-length show.

True, we get large extracts of Red Peppers and Still Life, filmed as Brief Encounter, which leave one lamenting that one did not have the original performers enacting them, but the rest of the two-and-a-half hour evening is basically a reminder of Mr Watts' namesake's 'Songs from the shows' interspersed with readings from the Coward canon; most of which one has seen before and done better.

Of these, one has to single out Miss Leventon's attempt at a scene from Blithe Spirit in which she galumphs about the stage - to paraphrase the words of Sandy Wilson (now why didn't they do an evening of him - it would have been far more entertaining?) - like a disorientated butterfly, her head enveloped in cheesecloth in a travesty of Kay Hammond's elegance in the same part.

To do her credit, Miss Leventon clearly has talent. One wonders why she elected to hide it under a bushel (or cheesecloth) for the greater part of the evening. John Watts brought great style to his material and made one believe that had Coward not done it first he (Mr Watts) would have done it better. For a newcomer to the works of the Master, the performances have a great deal to commend them.

It is not their fault that the show does not portray its protagonist in the best light. The overall impression of the production was that this particular milch cow has been milked dry and that the performers would have been better employed in some other gainful employment rather than raking over the dead ashes of a fire which one feels should never have been lit in the first instance. The evening was not Noel and Gertie's but merely Morley's.

Noel and Gertie, an entertainment devised and directed by Sheridan Morley. WITH Annabel Leventon and John Watts. Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London W1. Until September 7. Tickets 7287 2875.

Click here for David Munro's entertaining preview of the same production...