Leicester Square Theatre, London – until 28 May 2017
Guest reviewer: Sarah Tinsley
With some memorable performances and incredibly witty moments, Noel Coward’s play This Was a Man is a refreshingly entertaining evening out. It also leaves you musing over the difference between your public face and private self, and just how far the difference between the two is. Considering our reliance on social media and the public persona it creates, it’s an incredibly pertinent issue.
Edward Churt is bored. Trapped in a high-society vortex of visitors for cocktails, invitations for dinner and his burgeoning artistic career, he just can’t muster the energy to be emotional about anything, especially not his wife, Carol. She, however, is thoroughly enjoying herself, and engaging in a string of very public affairs. But in this post-war era of loose morals and shifting allegiances, what is to be done?
We are in London, where we meet a troop of vacuous characters, all tripping over to each other’s houses for drinks and gossip. Each one is mired in their own personal dramas, and yet none of them seem to actually pierce the emotional surface. The only one with any sort of spine seems to be Evelyn Bathurst, who has returned from the army with a strict moral code and some very clear ideas about what should be done with cheating wives.
While the characters seem far less scandalous to a modern audience (the play was banned in London when it was first released) the play-acting of social niceties hiding deep-seated insecurities and sexual repression is very recognisable. As such, the play’s messages and ideas still resonate, with much of the humour still finding its mark.
Due in part to some of the early performances by the smaller parts (you could barely hear Margot’s dialogue, but her physical comedy was spot on) it took a while for the play to really get going. Once the stage had been set and the intrigue increased, the pace and interest really took off.
It was interesting to note that, in a play that’s ostensibly about what truly makes ‘a man,’ the best performances were by women. Daisy Porter, as the adulterous Carol, positively lit up the stage with her poise and presence, while the seemingly innocent yet conniving Zoe St. Merryn, played by Bibi Lucile, provided a delicious counterpart. Added to that, the buffoonery of the well-meaning ‘Evie,’ played by Thom Pike, was a stoic pillar in the midst of all the drama. Paul Vitty, as the cuckolded Edward, didn’t quite come up to the same standard, although he does spend a lot of the play being foppish and bored, so perhaps it’s a bit hard to compare.
Not that I was a huge fan of the implication behind Coward’s female characters. They were devious, intent on using their feminine wiles to manipulate the men around them for their desires. A disappointing lack of subtlety, and it would have been better to see a less stereotypical and negative portrayal of what it means to be a woman.
Nonetheless, both physically and verbally, the humour really sparkled and the set and costumes cleverly integrated modern quirks in with the post-war dialogue, to further enhance the timeless message of Coward’s play.