Glen Street Theatre May 22
Noel and Gertie is a delicious, frothy confection of a show that has the sparkle of fine bubbly and a similarly intoxicating effect.
It was devised in 1982 by Sheridan Morley who used the words and music of Noel Coward to tell the story of Coward’s legendary, tempestuous friendship with actor Gertrude Lawrence – his sometime muse for whom he wrote Private Lives.
The show doesn’t break any ground dramatically. Morley tells their story chronologically using a montage of songs and extracts from Coward’s plays, diaries and letters. But when performed as well as it is here by James Millar and Lucy Maunder, it’s a delight.
The production, deftly directed by Nancye Hayes, has an elegant simplicity. Graham Maclean has designed a simple, Art Deco-inspired set and a gorgeous, slinky, white satin, Molyneux-like gown for Maunder, while Millar wears black tie.
Millar is cut out to play Coward. He looks the part and tosses off Coward’s witticisms effortlessly in a precise, clipped, English accent as if born to it, bringing the house down with his rendition of Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington.
Maunder also gives a lovely performance. Like Millar she is attuned to the sophistication and rhythms of Coward’s writing and sings more beautifully than Lawrence in numbers including Sail Away and Parisian Pierrot.
Together, they have a scintillating chemistry and capture the mischievous, bantering relationship between the two stars.
It’s not easy to perform Coward – and even harder when you’re performing extracts out of context. But the scenes from plays including Private Lives and Blithe Spirit work a treat, while the one from Still Life (which became the film Brief Encounter) is touching. There is still a little more emotional depth and nuance to be found but this will doubtless develop as the show settles in.
Musical director Vincent Colagiuri provides sensitive accompaniment on a grand piano sitting unobtrusively at the back of the stage.
Morley tells us almost nothing about Coward’s private life. There is one passing reference to Graham Payn performing in Tonight at 8.30pm but no mention of the fact that he was Coward’s partner for 30 years. Nor does Morley include the more colourful incidents from Lawrence’s. Watching it you feel you’d like to know more about them.
Nonetheless, in the hands of Millar and Maunder, Noel and Gertie is a stylish, delightful entertainment.
Noel and Gertie plays at Glen Street Theatre until June I then tours nationally to the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith, June 5 – 8; Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, June 11 – 15; Frankston Arts Centre, June 20; Whitehorse Centre, Nunawading, June 21 – 22; The Concourse, Chatswood, June 26 – 29; The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, July 2 – 7; Dubbo Regional Theatre, July 10; Orange Civic Theatre, July 12 – 13; Laycock Street Theatre, Gosford, July 16 – 18; Manning Entertainment Centre, Taree, July 20; Adelaide Festival Centre, July 23 – 27.
An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on May 16.