Noël and Gertie is the story of the relationship between playwright, songwriter and actor Noël Coward and actress Gertrude Lawrence. Coward frequently wrote plays and scripts with Lawrence in mind and their platonic love story, with its tempestuous twists and turns, dramatic highs and lows, is the stuff of intriguing, enchanting and entertaining drama and musical theatre.
James Millar and Lucy Maunder are tremendous as Coward and Lawrence. They sing superbly, dance elegantly and re-create an era and culture of sophistication and polite society of England in the 1920s through to the ’40s.
Sheridan Morley has created a script based on the letters and writings of Coward, and there are scenes from his plays; naturally, the words are witty, the rhymes clever and the songs melodic, with the brilliance of the man shining through.
Millar performs some classic Coward, such as Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington, with style, strength and humour, while Maunder has some beautiful and sensitive solos which showcase not only her own musicality and ability, but also Coward’s artistry and understanding of human emotions.
Noël and Gertie is informative as well as entertaining: we learn of Lawrence’s theatrical origins, her early stage appearances with Coward, her bankruptcy, despite her wealth, a little of her marriages, and the frustration and admiration Coward had for her. The format of information, spliced with songs of the time and scenes from plays the duo performed in, works effectively for the evening.
Millar (tall, fair and handsome, in a tuxedo) and Maunder (in a white evening gown) look splendid against Graham Maclean’s art-deco set, reminiscent of a theatre foyer, while talented musical director Vincent Colagiuri accompanies the duo on a grand piano upstage centre, silhouetted by a colourful star-studded cyclorama.
CDP Productions is fortunate to have had the services of veteran performer, Nancy Hayes, to direct this production, as she would have a vast and thorough knowledge of the songs, shows and the era.
Noël and Gertie is a nostalgic evening of class and quality. For those who know and love Coward and Lawrence, this production will help to recall a bygone era, and for those for whom the songs and style are unfamiliar, Noël and Gertie will spark an interest as to why Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence would fill theatres in the West End or Broadway.
Noël and Gertie is at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until July 27.
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