Saturday, 24 August 2013

A Review: Noel Coward's Easy Virtue.

Living in London, there was one type of show I was dis-inclined to see; those that were based upon movies.
It's not that I felt the story-lines and characterisations were inferior to those of books and scripts, just that I didn't understand the point of transposing a visual piece from the screen onto the stage. The joy of the theatre  is centred around interpretation of a different medium, the visualisation of a written work.

This weekend, some friends and I headed out to see a performance of Noel Coward's play Easy Virtue. The play itself is delightful; it doesn't attempt to say much, instead preferring to be an unflattering mirror held up to the English society of the time. It steers clear of discussions of race or colour, or nationality identifying none but the narrow-minded English family into which Larita has married and their slightly more broad-minded circle of friends and desired relations.

Noel Coward is renown for his wit, the speed of his dialogue and the double entendres liberally scattered throughout. Each of these essential elements were missed entirely by the actors and the director. Instead the actors performed as though reading the play for the first time, or at most attempting to replicate the movie made just a few years prior.  Admittedly, alternative interpretations of a source are to be encouraged, but when you are just rehashing a pre-existing (and not very good at that) interpretation it no longer becomes note worthy or interesting. Instead it just makes the director and actors appear to be inept at their craft. In this performance, Mrs Whitaker was an attempt to play Kristen Scott Thomas playing Mrs Whitaker and  Larita was much the same, replicating the styling, colouring and accent of Jessica Biel. Nowhere in the script is it indicated that Larita is blonde, American, or has a penchants for silk pyjama suits. What the script indicates is a dark haired, catholic, older woman who frequents Cannes and has lived in New York in her adulthood. These, and the sexual innuendos mentioned throughout, instead point towards a French woman of sufficient experience and means who was perhaps perfectly at home in the up and coming Art Deco movement in Paris as she was mingling with people of money and class on the French Riviera.

In addition, Easy Virtue is supposed to establish the extreme dichotomy between Larita and the family into which she has married. She is the black sheep. She is the one who is supposed to stand out like a sore thumb. Instead the set and backing artists provided the appearance of a cabaret show where Larita, sashaying around in her red silk pyjama suit is perfectly at home and comfortable, and the Whitaker family are the ones displaced.

The actors are supposed to be able to master the art of performing in different accents. Unfortunately in this instance, the ensuing reaction to almost all of the accents was clearly not one of appreciation. Even those who have not been anywhere near England, the BBC or such fashionable shows as Downton Abbey would have failed to place these accents anywhere on the British Isles. Only one character, a minor one with little more than about three lines had any success, producing at least a very stereotypical lower-class country accent.

It was an interesting performance to see, but it was almost more worthwhile reading the script and imagining the staging for myself.

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