While there is no doubting the shock value of The Vortex, the play that put Noel Coward on the map, when it was first produced in 1924, today it seems merely quaint, overwrought and a bit stilted.
David Dawson (Nicky Lancaster) and Sophie Rundle (Bunty Mainwaring) in The Vortex at the Rose Theatre, Kingston Photo: Tristram Kenton
His account of a troubled mother-son relationship begins as a light comedy, all idle chit-chat and brittle one-liners, before descending into something much darker and melodramatic.
The son, Nicky, a cocaine-taking musician studying in Paris, has come home to find his flighty, self-indulgent mother embroiled in a very public affair with a man half her age, under the nose of her kindly, strait-laced husband.
The passage of real time has robbed things like cocaine-taking and casual infidelity of their shock value, so when Nicky produces a stash of white powder to prove to his neglectful mother how desperate he has become, the audience scarcely bats a collective eyelid.
Stephen Unwin’s revival is nevertheless watchable and stylish, with some nice period touches, helped by Fin Walker’s dance arrangements and Olly Fox’s music choices.
One of the play’s deficiencies is the young Coward’s failure to flesh out his subsidiary characters, so you get talented players like James Dreyfus, Helen Atkinson Wood and William Chubb with very little to work with.
All eyes are on Kerry Fox’s insufferable poseur of a mother, whom she bravely makes no attempt to sugar-coat, and David Dawson’s super-charged Nicky, a performance bristling with nervous energy and manic intensity.