Pentameters Theatre (the little one above The Horseshoe pub in Hampstead) has a Noël Coward double-bill on at the moment. In 1935, Coward penned a series of short plays in a series called “Tonight at 8.30” and two of them – Red Peppers and the more famous Still Life – are directed by Aline Lewis in the intimate theatre.
Red Peppers, the first and shorter of the two, combines music hall revue tunes with backstage carping as the married couple who are the Red Peppers bicker with each other, the musical director and the theatre manager in an entertaining half hour of banter. It’s a very light piece, but enjoyably funny – if perhaps a bit shouty in this production, especially given the proximity of the audience.
After a short interval (aka pop back to the pub), we are treated to Still Life. This one-act play is better known these days as Brief Encounter – David Lean’s film for which Coward wrote the screenplay, extending this original work. The story is simple enough – we see the growing complicated romantic affair between housewife Laura and local married doctor Alec, which is contrasted with the straightforward flirting between Albert and Myrtle who both work at the train station where all the action is set.
The play works well on this small stage. The two lead actresses, Fiona Graham (Laura) and Déirdra Whelan (Myrtle), are especially good. The play suffers from Alec’s dialogue becoming a little stilted as the play progresses and this felt even more awkward in the hands of Elliot James. He simply looks too young for the role and, while Fiona Graham’s portrayal of Laura exuded the mix of guilt and passion it needed, the chemistry between her and James was lacking – his performance never quite finding the balance between repressed emotion nor unadulterated lust. He is, fittingly, at his best in the poignant final scene, which captures the transient nature of the whole affair rather well. The play would also benefit from more sense of how time moves on from one scene to the next, which would also help reinforce the depth of feeling the two protagonists have for each other.
After my last negative review of a Pentameters’ production, I’m delighted to say that this was an evening well spent. It’s not challenging or demanding theatre – it’s Noël Coward after all – but a very enjoyable local night out that will have you tucked up well before bedtime dreaming of bath buns, milky tea, and the vagaries of love.