Review: The Vortex, by Noel Coward, Paper Lantern Theatre Company, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, to October 20.
PUBLISHED: 12:44 18 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:47 18 October 2018
PAPER LANTERN THEATRE COMPANY
One of Coward's first plays, there's much to like and dislike. Director Sally Broatch and her cast wrestled the best out of a mishmash of a story brimming with too many ideas to create a thoroughly entertaining evening of wit and drama.
Glamorous socialite Florence Lancaster refuses to grow old gracefully, hurting everybody around her. Her son Nicky returns from Paris with his fiancée Bunty and a serious drug addiction. Soon, as mother and son’s vulnerabilities are exposed, the frothy comedy takes a different turn.
Written when Coward was just 24, its contentious topics of homosexuality, drug abuse and infidelity in the jazz age made it hard to get staged. I’d never heard of it and that freshness was a major draw for me.
Full of his characteristic wit, albeit rawer than in his later work; it’s full of lines worth tucking away for use in your own real-life dramas.
It’s dark too; its themes - including our quest for eternal youth and escaping problems through sex and drugs - still painfully present today. Shocking, heart-breaking and best of all it left me wanting to know what happened next after that bitter climax.
Darren Beattie’s lavish set design and Duncan Broatch’s music and sound design were divine. In fact the whole production oozed care and attention to detail.
Charlotte Curtis as Florence’s best friend Helen, Amanda Langley as her flighty friend Clara, Charlie Shephard as her paramour Tom, Roger Jackaman as her husband David, Issy Alway as servant Preston, Jack Shepherd as playwright Bruce and Molly Scurrell as Nicky’s fiancée were very watchable.
Tom Beattie was the standout as the sometimes ebullient, sometimes tortured Nicky. I’ve seen him in several things and this, for me, is his best performance yet. Rosie Beattie’s Florence could’ve been - as she’s often accused - pure frippery but there was a depth there that was slowly teased out. Darren Beattie, as the withering hanger-on Pawnie was devilishly delightful.
Nicky’s drug-fuelled unravellings were cleverly choreographed and there was an overall sense of cheekiness. Now where can I buy that soundtrack?