|Vincent Colagiuri, Lucy Maunder, James Millar in NOEL AND GERTIE|
An entertainment devised by Sheridan Morley with the words and music of Noel Coward.
The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.
2nd - 7th July 2013.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Stage charisma is that rare gift that separates great actors from the merely good. Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence were two actors who had charisma in spades, and over the years many very good actors have attempted to re-create their special quality.
Not having seen her perform live, I would like to think that Gertrude Lawrence was as beautiful, artful, talented and amusing as Lucy Maunder, who portrays her in this production. I can see that James Millar is rather more handsome than Noel Coward, and am happy to accept that his excellent diction, upright bearing and superior manner, captures much of the essence of the real Coward. Blessed with impeccable direction from that doyen of stylish stagecraft herself, Nancye Hayes, both Maunder and Millar prove very convincing at capturing the elusive charisma of the two British stage legends.
If the script seemed a little stilted and arch for modern day audiences, well, that is exactly as it should be, for to create this show, Coward biographer, Sheridan Morley, has sifted through Coward’s diaries as well as letters exchanged between Coward and Lawrence, then selected songs and excerpts from several of Coward’s most popular plays and musicals to construct a pastiche which entertainingly presents a warm and funny view of a long-running relationship which enriched and embellished both careers.
Almost worth the price of admission alone is the cosy and beautifully detailed Edwardian setting, designed by Graham McLean, which is enhanced by the equally glamorous costumes he provided for both actors, and the presence of pianist Vincent Colagiuri, seated upstage centre at the glistening black grand piano providing perfect musical accompaniments.
The production is a wonderful showcase for Lucy Maunder. Her superbly cut white satin dress is a thing of beauty in its own right, and she obviously delighted in taking every opportunity to show it off to advantage. During the course of the show Maunder provides surprising depth to the feuding vaudevillian in an excerpt from “Red Peppers”, is ravishingly sophisticated, elegant and playful in an excerpt from “Private Lives” and restrained and moving in the “Brief Encounters” segment.
Similarly James Millar captures the famous superciliousness of Coward without resorting to caricature, and his clear and carefully nuanced delivery of Coward’s famous lines is a lesson in style.
Together Maunder and Millar are an attractive couple. Both have good singing voices, and whether dancing gaily a la Fred and Ginger, snapping at each other in “Red Peppers” or exchanging sophisticated barbs in “Private Lives”, they manage to create a touching and believable picture of a unique and no doubt volatile and creative relationship which is now theatre history.
Skilfully and lovingly realised, this gem of a production offers the rare opportunity to experience a style of theatre which is rapidly disappearing, and you’ll kick yourself if you miss it.