THEATRE REVIEW: A Song at Twilight @Devonshire Park, Eastbourne

April 3, 2019

A Song at Twilight is a play in two acts, one set, four actors, formal, direct to audience, no fuss and depicts an elderly writer confronted by his former mistress with facts about his past life that he would prefer to forget.

A Song at Twilight by Noel Coward

@Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

YOU can smell the lifetime of craft that went into its construction. It oozes polish.  From 1966 (and part of a trilogy all based in the same hotel suite) the play is one of Coward’s last works for the stage and concerns the closeted past of a famous writer catching up with him.

It’s an interesting piece, has much going for it, and still relevant sadly with many people still living lives of deceit and self-denial rather than embrace the truth of their own being.  Being LGBT+ is widely accepted  and Pride might have become a family institution but as the play brutally points out, time and time again, centuries of religious and civil prejudice take a long, long time to work out of the British state and psyche.

When written being gay was still illegal and the play anchors itself very firmly in this time with touch perfect costumes and set from Simon Higlett. We are given a moment in time, not just in the life of the protagonist and his wife, but of society and the huge windows, the privileged view, the ticking of the over elaborate clock all tell us where and when we are.

Jessica Turner was utterly divine and up against two stage craft folk like Jane Asher and Simon Callow, neither known for the subtleties of their performances and certainly giving it the wellie tonight on stage, Turner managed to not only steal most of the laughs for her wonderfully gentle and utterly beguiling drunken return in the second act, but also brought a convincing yearning loss, untinged by bitterness, ego or anger which she delivered with a tenderness which silenced the house.

Turners performance was a show stealer, quite the result when Asher is stomping around delivering her lines in a staccato daze and Callow is thundering every other syllable until it bleeds. I loved them. Although not balanced in a serious way as a trio they worked very well together, and Callow and Asher certainly gave battle and axe a decent outing, but it’s not until later in the play did Asher convince me of her own characters hurt and motivation. They played torture tennis with energy, their lines only needing the slightest push to work, and the audience lapped them up.

Asher and Turner both sported the most beautiful outfits, with such attention to detail, and they both worked the costume, in texture and posture perfectly. With some rather pleasantly distraction walk-on’s from handsome eye candy Ash Rizi this was a rather interesting cast.

I’ve always found Coward a bitter old bitch, brittle, brutal and beguiling with his savage critiques and searing bluntness and the lines sizzle on the stage like a rasher of bacon dropped on a red-hot griddle.  Callow gets the best ones and wrestles them up and down the emotional timbres of that fantastic voice before mercilessly slamming them down.

I’d have imagined they’d get on Callow and Coward. I’m not so sure Asher would have lasted long with the master, there’s not quite enough there.  Callow does bombast like no-one but this play is about the phyric triumph of self-delusion, where only you are really deceived by your crafted deceptions. It’s here that Callow failed to convince, in the empty sadness, the regretful echo chamber of true love denied. His bitterness is brilliant but his sadness soporific when it should be crepuscular. “Deep in our hearts it dwells forevermore.”

Director Stephen Unwin has brought us a stylish and relevant production but the imbalance of the acting rather takes the shine off what could have been a stunning production. Nonetheless it’s a very fine piece of theatre, done well, perfectly timed but perhaps tastier with a half kilo less of rant, and a cup full more of conviction.

So there we were, whizzing back to Brighton over the stunning Seven Sisters, roof down, moon high and the darkness hugging us like a crazed fan. My companion warbling on in a very happy tone of voice, obviously satiated by some stylish theatre and pleased with at least two-thirds of the cast. I pondered on this well presented and well thought out curious play and reflected that not all the ingredients were quite as well judged, and the filling not quite to my fancy, and left crumbs all over the place. The overall taste of this vintage baked fancy was well worth the effort and turned out rather well in the end.

Play until Saturday April 6

Audio described performance on Friday April 5, 7.45pm and Saturday April 6, 2.30pm

Devonshire Park Theatre


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