These jokes aren’t funny anymore. What once passed for wit is now the bone-dry badinage of whining socialites. What was risque irreverence is now tame as a kitten. Tom Attenborough’s unashamedly traditional revival of this Noel Coward classic, in which two couples bicker in an expensive hotel and then an expensive apartment, does decadence well, but can’t find the substance to match it.
Tom Chambers’s Elyot has an easy patrician swagger, and looks suitably louche as he drapes himself over the set’s various art deco fixtures. But he’s no match for Laura Rogers’s formidable Amanda – and he should be. In Amanda and Elyot, Coward created complete equals. Amanda is an admirably progressive creation, giving as good as she gets in the shouting matches and fist-fights between her and Elyot.
These physical moments lift the production. While Coward’s suggestive dialogue did a lot to loosen the stiffness of the upper class’ upper lips, Attenborough takes it a step further and has Amanda and Elyot in an all-out, sexually charged scrap on the drawing room floor. Apart from that, the back-and-forths between the couples continue interminably.
It’s a production that doesn’t seem to know how passe the script is. Rather than trying to find something in that – some relevance, some charm – instead it goes for old-fashioned servitude to the text. And there’s a medley of Coward’s songs in there too, just to rub more tedium in the wound.
So the question is: what’s the point? “A plotless play about purposeless people” is what John Lahr called it. Add “pedestrian production” to that, and this is what you get.