Weatherwise and Mild Oats by Noel Coward.
Directed by Tony Turner. Teatro Vivaldi. Australian National University. May 18-19 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Director Tony Turner has unearthed two rarely performed short plays by The Master, Noel Coward, at a farewell tribute to the remarkable Teatro Vivaldi, Canberra’s own enchanting, atmospheric and iconic theatre restaurant, soon to be tragically demolished as part of extensions at the ANU and academic expansion. More on that later.
The choice of these slight, fluffy and funny pieces is also a tribute to Teatro Vivaldi owners Mark Santos and Anthony Hill, who ran a similar venture at the Noel Coward Hotel in New York for many years. The final Gala Farewell, featuring John Shortis and Moya Simpson with Peter J Casey will be performed on June 8 - 10 as the final event at Canberra’s only existing, soon to be demolished, theatre restaurant.
|Henry STrand and Alessa Kron in Mild Oats.
Photo by Tony Turner
It would be easy to dismiss the short flipperies as dated and oh so terribly British, but as between courses entertainment they fulfil Coward’s acclaimed “talent to amuse.” Mild Oats tells the story of two twenty-one year olds who meet up during a night on the town, and return to the apartment, that He is minding for a friend. She happily accompanies him, only to realize that she has set up expectations quite contrary to her real sweet self. Both He (Henry Strand) and She (Alessa Kron) are terribly naïve, deliciously young and frightfully inept in the true ways of the heart, not to mention the artful practice of intimacy. Strand and Kron are well cast by director Turner and in the intimate setting of Teatro Vivaldi with its small and compact stage they play out their preciousness with innocent charm.
Weatherwise is a longer piece in two scenes. I suspect that it might have been a trial dabble by Coward before his highly popular and clever comedy, Blithe Spirit. Coward facetiously and cheekily exposes the ridiculous notion of the existence of psychics who can conjure the dead and enter the spirit world.
Lady Warple (Elaine Noon) becomes possessed by the spirit of a dog. Queen Victoria appears on a Ouija Board to reveal that the mention of the weather and the words Bow Wow will cause the appearance of a dog. It’s a totally silly conceit pooh-poohed by the son (Duncan Driver) whom might have been a precursor to Charles in Blithe Spirit. Other members of the family, played with upper middle class propriety and correctness by daughters, Alessa Kron, Emily Ridge, and Patricia Manly, and the Reverend, George Pulley. Coward continues his cynical swipe at pompous professionals with the appearance of the psychiatrist (Colin Milner), whose vain authority leads him to an unfortunate end.
Both pieces are deftly and properly directed by Turner with a careful eye for the essential comedy of eccentric English manners. His cast, many of whom have come from Turner’s recent Rep production of Trelawny of the Wells, capture the spirit of the Upper Middle Class in accent and gesture, assisted by Nineteen Twenties costuming by Anna Senior. All in all, the pieces offered a pleasant and amusing entertainment between courses. I can’t imagine these pieces gaining a popular airing in the future. They are soft-edged satire of a period largely lost in time and unlikely to survive as well as Coward’s more notable plays such as Private Lives, Blithe Spirit or Hayfever, which enjoy regular amateur and professional production.
But on this occasion, they were an excellent choice to farewell a Canberra Cultural institution that embodied in so many ways the charm and refreshing spirit of Coward and his era. Both pieces were well directed and properly performed by a talented group of local performers. Teatro Vivaldi and Mark and Anthony could have not wished for a more apt and heartfelt theatrical tribute and acknowledgement of the magnificent service that they have provided the Canberra community over so many years. That this should be abolished is another travesty by the Australian National University and the powers that be to erode the role of culture and the arts in its mission as a noble institution of learning and Renaissance philosophy.
We are much indebted to Mark and Anthony for all that they have done for the university, the arts community , visiting professionals and the Canberra community. May they weather this storm and sew their mild oats and rich harvest in the future.