Noel Coward’s Star Quality is a play within a play, in which drama ensues not only on stage but off stage also; with the scriptwriter, director and leading lady constantly at odds about how to portray the dialogue. The play was Coward’s last, and true to form is a mixture of satire, wit and cynicism. I went to see the opening night of Christopher Luscombe’s new, travelling adaptation on Monday night at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, with a theatre going novice. I was interested to see how they reacted to the experience as a regular theatre goer who thoroughly enjoys the experience. The two of us did not know what to expect, as I only knew Coward’s play Blythe Spirit, I assumed that the play would be thoroughly entertaining and full of humour; it did not disappoint.
The play began with Bryan Snow, the writer of play Dark Heritage meeting with the overly dramatic, theatrical lovey, and leading lady, Lorraine Barrie who is incredibly enthusiastic about the play that he has produced and is incredibly sexually overt with the clearly shy, new scriptwriter. Liza Goddard, who is well known in the theatrical and television world, played Lorraine with zealous, and managed to portray not only the concept of an actress caught in a pre-war world who does not agree with the new wave of directors she has to encounter, but also the conniving actress who will not let anyone get in the way of her chosen part.
The play continued with the introduction of the director that is to cause the tension between scriptwriter and leading lady, Ray Malcolm. We are shown the first read through of the play, with the terrible actress Marion Blake acting in a style that can only be described as atrocious – it is clear why Lorraine wants her so much to play Stella in the performance. There is a strange slow motion piece in which time is shown to pass, which both myself, and my guest thought was somewhat out of place and odd directorial decision by Joe Harmston. The relationship between Lorraine and Ray is interesting to watch as the two try to re-write the final scene of the play. The way in which Coward shows the intricate relations between the characters is both humorous and very clever.
During the interval, my guest and I discussed the play so far, with differing views. He believed that Daniel Casey (best known for playing Sgt. Troy in Midsomer Murders) was stealing the show as Ray, playing him with all the cold, reserved nature that a modern, innovative director would maintain. Whereas I believed that Gay Sopper as Lorraine’s maid stole most of the scenes she was in, as reminded me heavily of the character Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques.
The second half of the play concerns the re-writing of the final scene and practising the play. There is a lot of focus on the homosexual undertones within the writing, which could have been used as a way of opening the audiences mind up to how heavily populated the theatre, is with homosexual men, but instead turns some scenes into something more of a pantomime. The character of Tony, in particular, was incredibly camp, and in many ways, highly inappropriately used. As the opening night closes in on the characters, drama ensues with a highly charged scene between Ray and Lorraine which expressed this division between pre-war and post-war attitudes within the world of the theatre. I shall not ruin the ending for anyone interested in seeing the play, which I do recommend greatly, but will say that it is in many ways unexpected. When the curtain fell, I turned to my guest and asked if they had enjoyed their first experience of the theatre, which had included a trip to the bar and ice cream in the interval, and they replied that they had. Which for me is a great compliment towards the production, as captivated a new audience with what could have been seen as a highly outdated play, and convinced them to see more plays; a true success.