by Noel Coward
Presentation House Theatre
In the words of Coward’s own characters, this production of his fluffy 1920s comedy of manners is “awfully amusing” and at times “perfectly ripping!” Nicola Cavendish, who knows this stuff like the inside of her own head, directs a cast of awfully good community theatre vets and recent theatre school grads in an altogether pleasing manner. The result is a show that’s selling out Presentation House.
The mildly eccentric Bliss family consists of mama Judith (Jane Noble), an actress in semi-retirement, papa David (Robert French), a novelist, and 20-ish kids Sorel (Niki Brown) and Simon (Christopher Murray) who seem not to have any vocation but quarreling with one another. In this liberated household, where each lives his or her life independently, each has invited a guest down for the weekend. Sorel has asked “diplomatist” Richard (Ian Attewell), Judith a young admirer of hers, the perfect darling” Sandy (Ian Harmon), Simon the cool, sophisticated Myra (Christina Schild), and David Jackie (Cherise Clarke), a “perfectly sweet flapper.” Trying to keep track of them all is the household’s sole servant, gruff Cockney Clara (Anne Marsh).
A great deal of partner-switching goes on and what must have been, at the time, near-scandalous sexual flirtation and foreplay, until the guests are finally driven to leave by the outrageous behaviour of their hosts.
With the exception of the rather bland paterfamilias David and Richard the diplomat, there is an archness to each of these characters that makes playing them a delicate balance. And there are some notable successes.
Attewell plays Richard with solid dignity and Schild, a Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike, makes Myra likeably imperious. Marsh’s Clara is the audience favourite. Cigarette dangling from her mouth, she’s oblivious to the good manners required in such society. In one pure Cavendish moment—this is the character Nicky would play if she were in the cast—Clara pours herself a whiskey, throws it back, wipes the rim of the glass on her blouse, and puts it back on the table, all in one motion, while the guests look on rah-thah appalled.
Clarke makes Jackie, the déclassé outsider with the title malady, very funny with her little nasal voice, down-market accent, and perpetually bewildered look. But centre-stage, and the show-stopper, is the broadly theatrical Judith, played by Noble with wonderful aplomb in a note-perfect performance. She’s big and broad but never too much so. Coward would adore her, dahling.