For enthusiasm, good heart and the judicious placing of a couple of the master’s songs filched from other productions, this evening of two of Noel Coward’s one-act plays cannot be faulted.
At times, though, the production foundered between the limitations of the physical space and the limitless opportunities afforded by Coward’s satires, particularly in the first and better of the plays, We Were Dancing from 1935, part of the Tonight at 8:30 cycle.
After meeting in a South Sea Island country club a couple decide to elope, although she is there with her husband, played by John MacCormick, whose eyes blaze with passion while he employs social niceties. As the egregiously smooth cuckolder, James Sindall draws some laughs from an equally mannered approach (and shows off a beautiful tenor vocal).
Too often, these and other performances become Coward parodies, missing deeper, wounding insights. Not so Lianne Harvey, in bias-cut satin, who is mesmerising as the would-be runaway, evoking moods which flicker and shift beneath the bravado.
A purplish glow suffuses the set to denote romance; a white glare the harsh light of day.
An open-sided rectangular construction dominates the space, adroitly if claustrophobically occupied by up to six actors at any one time. This is transformed into a boudoir for 1922’s The Better Half. Tracey Pickup, as a wife encouraging her husband’s affair, revels in the abrasive comedy of the role but is strangely mismatched with Beth Eyre’s sad-eyed mistress who might be on her way to Dignitas rather than a saucy tryst.