Noel Coward made his final stage appearance as pompous, ageing author Sir Hugo Latymer, the character at the centre of this welcome, if slow-burning, revival at Theatre Royal Bath.
Viewed at the time as semi-autobiographical, A Song at Twilight is tailor-made for actors of a certain vintage, and here director Stephen Unwin draws out moving, multilayered performances from Simon Callow and Jane Asher.
Callow’s Sir Hugo blusters his way through life and bullies his loyal wife and former secretary Hilde, played by Jessica Turner with a subtle emphasis on the value of kindness in the face of painful truths from the past. The tension rises with the arrival at his Swiss lakeside hotel of former lover Carlotta, elegantly portrayed by Asher. Carlotta searches for both revenge and disclosure of the contradiction in Sir Hugo’s private life at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence.
Sir Hugo is worried that Carlotta is seeking payback for his ungracious view of her in his recent autobiography. But she is writing a book herself, and in the much faster paced and revealing second act Unwin and his cast refashion the mood and tease out the challenges of dealing with deep feelings that have been buried away, as a raft of lost opportunities and secrets are revealed.
There is a dignified cameo from Ash Rizi as the hotel’s discreet waiter, and the nostalgic tone of pre-John Osborne and Look Back in Anger is richly captured in Simon Higlett’s opulent drawing-room set.