Squaring up two legendary but contrasting creative minds is the pretext for Jeremy Kingston’s quick-witted new play. It is essentially a good excuse for the playwright to conjure up an absorbing fictional shindig of sharp tongues and camp, caustic wit.
Set with the First World War still a recent memory, Noel Coward and his boyfriend Tono, Agatha Christie, ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten and a navy chum all converge at the same hotel on Burgh Island in Devon - what follows is an interesting study of strained relationships and suppressed sexuality.
The undoubted key to the success of this production is Robert Forknall’s mesmerising portrayal of the young Coward. He shifts with ease from playful sparring to an acid tongue, from exuberant banter to melancholy and anger - it is a captivating portrait of Coward as a wise fool.
Caroline Wildi’s Christie is a rather more withdrawn figure whose quiet intelligence contrasts with the boisterous antics of the men around her. As sexually confused Mountbatten, Hywel John gives a lighter comic air to proceedings, despite the shadow of an undesired marriage hanging over him. David Peto, Rob Pomfret and Matt Reeves all give assured, essentially supporting performances.
Robert Gillespie’s direction alternates the pacing of the dialogue well, while Kevin Freeman’s set and Stephen Ley’s lighting do what is required but little more. One criticism is the rather poorly mimed piano playing by several cast members - but this is a minor flaw in a stylish production.