Home Chat
Venue and town: Finborough Theatre, London
Producer: ElmTree Productions/Finborough Theatre
Author: Noel Coward. Director: Martin Parr
Cast includes: Polly Adams, Tim Chipping, Philip Correia, Joanna David, Richard Dempsey, Nelly Harker, Robert Hazle, Clare Lawrence Moody, Zoe Waites
Running time: two hours including interval
Dates of run: Aug 30-Sept 24

 

It’s an indictment of society when the well-born, well-bred and very carefully brought-up are willing to condemn those they supposedly love on circumstantial evidence.

As a homosexual living in times that brushed him aside as a confirmed bachelor, Noel Coward more than many must have felt the urge to scandalise the hypocrites drinking tea from china cups who passed for the civilised classes.

Nearly 90 years after Home Chat’s world premiere in 1927, director Martin Parr’s decision to deliver this rare revival straight misses the chance to make us feel the anguish of Coward’s cri de coeur and instead leaves us feeling pleasantly amused but nothing stronger.

Rebecca Brower’s and Charlotte Espiner’s faithfully 1920s set and costume design, lovingly sourced down to a model train sitting on a gate-leg table, confirm the production is an act of period homage rather than a daring modernisation that could make us feel anew the original impact.

As the central couple, Zoe Waites and Tim Chipping as Janet and Paul Ebony are suitably ill-suited and ready to grasp the slightest excuse to end the sham marriage they have somehow embarked upon.

He, in hand-knitted tank-top, is a model of pompous restraint, while she booms in satin and Clare Lawrence Moody, as the mousy Mavis Wittersham, waits desperately in her brown box pleats to seize her chance.

Around them hovers the elder generation as guardians of the status quo – the respective mothers Polly Adams as Mrs Ebony senior, a battle-axe in a fur coat, and the somewhat softer Joanna David as Janet’s mother Mrs Chilham.

If the Ebonys can blame social convention for their inappropriate marriage, they are responsible for their relish at its destruction.  It should come across as a liberating, feminist act of defiance, but the failure of the characters to have emotional appeal or to fully achieve the satisfaction they crave could explain Home Chat’s neglect just as much as the outrage its message caused nearly 90 years ago.

As if to make up for the bitter-after-taste sense the heart is lacking, the fine-voiced Robert Hazle, who plays butlers Pallett and Turner, throws in a few of Coward’s songs, including If Love were All.  It contains the self-deprecating line “a talent to amuse”, which on this occasion seems to sum up the extent of Coward’s achievement.

Barbara Lewis © 2016.

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