Delightfully entertaining theatre

A Song at Twilight by Noel Coward at Colchester Mercury until February 21.Ah, this one takes you back with pleasure. Not just because it is written by a master craftsman and points up a particularly elegant period in theatre, but because it echoes that polished modishness in every way.

David Henshall

A Song at Twilight by Noel Coward at Colchester Mercury until February 21.

Ah, this one takes you back with pleasure. Not just because it is written by a master craftsman and points up a particularly elegant period in theatre, but because it echoes that polished modishness in every way.

No effort has been spared. The two-box set for the sumptuous Swiss suite where it all takes place is a stunner of detail and colour with that perfect-looking, sharply-upholstered hotel furniture that is always so uncomfortable to sit on.


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But best of all is the cast who seize the style of the piece and compel Coward's clever words and sentences into a riveting story. It was his last play, not quite his best, but with a first act that simply sparkles and a second that is less fizzy but very gripping.

It is the 1960s and Sir Hugo Latymer is one of the foremost writers of the time, knighted for his words, witty and so cuttingly astringent about everybody that he is rapidly running out of friends. And he is puzzled because an old lover from 40 years ago, with whom he's had no contact since, has asked to visit him.

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She's Carlotta Gray and Sir Hugo discusses with his wife Hilde, a German girl he married 20 years ago when she was his secretary, what this modestly successful actress might want of him after all this time. Probably money, he thinks.

Carlotta is invited to visit and, after arranging a supper a deux for her husband and his old flame, Hilde goes out to dine with a lesbian friend who turns out to be pivotal to the tale.

Carlotta doesn't want money and we enjoy a scintillating scene where the pair actually set about their caviar, steak, salad and chocolate pud with pink champagne while spitting out wicked verbal cuts and thrusts. She is pretty peeved at the nasty way Sir Hugo dismissed her in his memoirs.

She has his letters to her and wants his permission to publish them in her autobiography and he refuses. But then, she also has his letters to another lover, a man. And so the bitter battle begins. What must he do or pay to get them back?

The trouble is that Sir Hugo is used to getting his own way, arrogant, assertive, selfish and without a clue about what makes a woman tick. We know Carlotta is really looking for a bit of heart and kindness in the man she once loved and we know, too, that he has none of this in him. So she sets about making him suffer.

Peter Egan and Belinda Lang are brilliant antagonists. He the bully who won't be beaten and she as sharp as a tack, cool and more than his match in every way. As Hilde, Kerry Peers is also vitally strong in this bright night of delightful old-fashioned theatre.

David Henshall.

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