By Noel Coward
Directed by Lucy Bailey
Venue: Minerva Theatre
Date: Thursday 31st August 2006
This was much better than part one. Josefina had done something with her voice, and now I could hear every word. In fact, I lost very few lines at all this time around.
Hands Across the Sea started the evening. Aristocratic couple, plus friends dropping in for a chat and a drink, entertain a middle class couple who looked after the wife briefly during a world tour. Sadly, it’s not the couple they think they’re entertaining, and they have to find out who the guests actually are. Sounds funnier than it is. There were a few good laughs, especially the wife’s reaction when she realises her mistake, but overall the piece was very dated. Most of the laughs were based on posh folk not even noticing when they’re getting other people caught up in the trailing telephone cable, and the (relatively) lower classes being too terrified to move out of the way or disentangle themselves. All pretty far fetched today.
Fumed Oak was easily the best piece of both parts. The opening scene didn’t promise much – a wife, daughter and grandmother having breakfast and bickering amongst themselves. Father arrives and is scarcely noticed, sitting quietly at the end of the table. Grandma and mother are constantly sniping over every possible bone of contention – noisy plumbing, bringing up the daughter, money, etc. No wonder the poor husband gets out of the house without finishing his breakfast.
Scene two was wonderful. The worm turns. Father comes home to find a cold supper laid out for him, while the three women are about to go off to the cinema. He puts a stop to that by locking the door and removing the key – they’re going to hear what he has to say, and he doesn’t hold back. His wife tricked him into marriage years ago when she was worried she’d be left on the shelf, by pretending she was pregnant – the baby finally arrived three years later! Despite this, he’s shelved his own plans and worked to support the family – a wife who’s cold-hearted and mean-spirited and a daughter he frankly can’t stand. Gran has plenty of money of her own, apparently, while he’s saved up £572 from his wages, and plans to go off and live a bit while he still has the chance. Plates are thrown, Gran gets slapped (though she recovers enough to be crawling around the floor picking up the £50 he’s leaving for his wife and child), and the whole rumpus was very satisfactory.
Shadow Play finished the evening. An interesting piece, it set up the premise of a fashionable couple, tired of each other, where the husband asks for divorce, or does he? She’s taken some sedative or sleeping pills, and starts feeling strange while they’re talking. Suddenly she’s seeing how things used to be, and they reprise their relationship, cutting back and forth from the present to the past – very dreamlike. It also allows for some lovely cameos by the rest of the cast, as waiters, suitors, gondoliers, etc. Much of this is musical, with songs and dances, broken by patches of dialogue. Finally, we come back to the present, where she’s being fed black coffee by her husband, with the maid and a concerned friend in support. As she settles back to sleep, she tells her husband they can talk about divorce tomorrow, but he’s certain he never asked her for one. Intriguing, and nicely ambiguous.
That was it, and we were glad we lowered our expectations to rock bottom – we ended up enjoying it even more, and this was definitely our preferred selection (though we wouldn’t go out of way to see these again).
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me