Volcano is something of a dirty secret - the gossipy tale of the love affairs of Noel Coward’s bored, listless and over-privileged Jamaica neighbours, written in exile in 1956 and never performed until now.
Jason Durr (Guy Littleton)and Jenny Seagrove (Adela Shelley) in Volcano at the Vaudeville Theatre, London Photo: Keith Pattison
Those hoping for a lost masterpiece as this touring production lands in the West End will be disappointed. But there are some bright spots. For one, Jason Durr, the former Heartbeat heart-throb shows panache in his portrayal of the Rhett Butlerish cad Guy Littleton (apparently modeled on Coward’s friend Ian Fleming). We can well believe the power he holds over women - firstly the older, wiser expat Adela (an occasionally affecting Jenny Seagrove) and then by the younger unhappily married Ellen (Perdita Avery).
It is difficult to engage sympathetically with the sexual shenannigans of this sybaritic milieu and there are moments when the titters owe more to the anachronistic nature of the often lumpen dialogue and a world where people are either cads, decent coves or terribly in love with one another. And the symbolism of the volcano bubbling away above them is hardly subtle.
But Roy Marsden is always an assured director, here teasing out the often flabby text’s life and humour (such as when Durr reaches out forlornly for Adela’s tight bottom) and Coward’s bolder than usual hints at homoeroticism.
The best thing, however, are Simon Scullion’s beautiful designs which really do transport you into the Jamaican night heat. The symbolism is of course a bit obvious. But then so is this. In an occasionally diverting way.