‘Star Quality’ is Coward’s 1951 mischievous revenge and perceptive short biographical story about aging actors. This is NOT one of his classic comedies, but it IS a finely observed look back at some of the characters that he met on his journey through the theatre. Written when the flamboyant English playwright Sir Noël was in his fifties, after decades of success. Sadly, when he adapted the book into his final play, he was in his late sixties and the show never took off. This was because he had hardening of the arteries and Alzheimer’s was starting.
His original production of this play had 18 actors and dozens of locations – totally impractical. Luckily, in 1967 Christopher Luscombe spotted the potential and re-adapted it into today’s show. He did however manage to retain Coward’s suave, elegant style with the wicked humour.
This view of the dirt and cattiness in theatre life can be seen at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street, Guildford. The two-hour performances are each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at 8.00 until the 18th May. There are two matinées.
The Scene: Summer 1951 in London
The Set: The clever set with many hidden panels was designed by James Nailen and Fred Petersen. It was also built by them, aided by James Scott and Caileb Hombergen-Crute. When the curtain was raised, we saw an empty area backstage in a London theatre. The rear walls and two doors are powder blue, with the side flats black. As the play progressed various ‘invisible’ panels opened to give us a foldout bed, a writing desk, a country vista (artist – Celeste Lopez) and a set of footlights.
Geoff Holt’s lighting and sound design was of his usual high standard, with the operation by a rota of Garrick members.
I think that Coward had a soft spot and admiration for most of the theatres’ crews and so on this occasion the stage hands are written into the script, so all the scene changes are by actors in costume. The real stage manager is Grainne Friel and her assistant Kathleen Nyland.
Author, Bryan Snow (Alan Gill) has written a couple of plays, so is thrilled when an amicable theatrical director, Ray Malcolm (Alan Morris) approaches him wanting to present his latest. Out of the blue, they are surprised to receive an invitation from a fading Diva, who in her own mind is still a ‘Star’, this Lorraine Barrie (Kath Jones, magnificent). Lorraine moves in rapidly on poor naïve Bryan for the part of leading lady, but director Ray has other ideas which are carefully noted down by his young Personal Assistant, Tony (Chris Kennedy).
As the interested parties discuss the play, the theatre’s dresser Nora (Marsha Holt) returns from a walk with Lorraine’s pampered pooch, Bothwell (Daisy or Monty – Bichon Frise). With Nora is Lorraine’s co-star and major competitor, attractive but loud and ingratiating Marion (Susan Meikle).
The scene ends and the stage goes dim, as the stage manager of Bryan’s play, Harry (Caileb Hombergen-Crute) and his assistant stage managers, Beryl (Christine Offringa) and Laura (Kathleen Nyland) set up the next scene clearly in view of the audience.
The rehearsal of Bryan’s play begins with Marion and the two leading men, Eric (Ben Lowther) and Gerald (Alan Shaw). By the end of Act One’s first rehearsal, the jealousy and tension between all the cast is palpable, as they seek to further their own interests instead of that of the play and production.
The choice of costumes by Grainne Friel was perfect in style and flamboyance. Lynda Stubbs added the crowning glory hairdos.
Directed by theatre veteran Lynne Devenish, thankfully nothing like Ray, with a genuine all-star cast, all of whom can really act. This show was a little slow to start as Coward set the scene and introduced his wonderful characters; but if you know anything about the theatre life, then you will smile and even laugh aloud as you recognise various similar actors from local shows. Coward has picked his worst personal memories and melded them into a fine show as a rich character study. The cast completely captured the depth of personalities and their mannerisms.
Very well directed and acted, but this is a fun light-hearted drama about personalities, not a straight comedy.