Chance to see a long-hidden play by Noel Coward
Prominently displayed at the Mill at Sonning — at the approach to the buffet where queuing patrons cannot fail to see it — is a large photograph recording one of this dinner theatre’s finest moments. This was the 1989 staged reading of Noël Coward’s play Volcano, which starred Judi Dench, her husband Michael Williams and Adam Faith.
Having missed this one-off performance of a 1956 play that, remarkably, had never been previously aired, I have remained mildly curious about what it is like. I shall therefore be sure not to miss the first major production of it which producers Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright are bringing to Oxford Playhouse from July 16 to 21. Its stars include Jenny Seagrove and Finty Williams, the daughter of Dame Judi and the late Mr Williams.
Last week’s Spectator featured a well-managed interview about the production between Robert Gore-Langton and its director Roy Marsden. Naturally, the subject of why the play has been so long neglected was fully covered. It is Mr Marsden’s opinion that the drama, set among the upper-class milieu of Coward’s home island of Jamaica, was too revealing of its writer’s homosexuality. The legendary West End producer Binkie Beaumont, who was gay too, probably put the kybosh on it with his declaration: “Darling, there is no laughter.”
Mr Marsden, best known for playing P.D. James’s sleuth Adam Dalgliesh on television, sagely observed: “Nobody today gives a fart about anyone’s sexuality — it’s the lying people don’t like. But gay men back then tended to get married and have children, and then spend a lot of time, miserably, in dingy clubs in the arse end of Ebury Street. That’s what it was like.”