A SET of nine one-act Noel Coward plays is being revived in Surrey next week – for the first time since the great man himself starred in them all in 1936.
“I’ve been trying to get them on for about a decade, but everyone was always too big, too epic, too expensive,” says director Blanche McIntyre. “Finally, to my complete delight, Sam Hodges at the Nuffield and English Touring Theatre said they’d be up for co-producing it.”
Under the heading Tonight at 8.30, the nine plays will be performed in sets of three at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week, with all nine being presented on Saturday with meals in between.
“They’re all set in totally different places, all written in totally different styles and all requiring totally different modes of acting,” continues Blanche. “One’s practically an opera. One’s a music hall pastiche. Another’s a brutally upsetting play about a psychiatrist obsessed with his wife’s friend. It was Coward’s attempt, I think, to revitalise the one-act play and to celebrate what actors could do.”
The winner of the UK Theatre Award for Best Director last year says she had read one or two of the plays at drama school but only realised their full scope a few years later. “They work much better as a nine-act play than as nine individual shorts,” she explains. “Two themes run through them: about grabbing every scrap of happiness you can and about the chaos that love can cause.”
Set in the 1930s, the short plays give the audience a chance to peep through their fingers at the chaotic Red Peppers music-hall show, join Lady Giplin for a soiree of mistaken identities in Hands Across the Sea and break their hearts along with Laura in the famous Still Life, the original version of the film Brief Encounter. “These plays are quite raw,” says Blanche. “They’re very front-footed, very passionate. A few are quite messy and ragged. They come from the gut.
“A couple still feel very experimental. In one, you go inside a woman’s head as she’s drifting in and out of sleep, so her marriage and its break-up start swirling into the play. Halfway through she bursts into song. Formally speaking, it’s incredibly experimental: well ahead of the ’30s and still quite strange even now.”
The ensemble cast will include Kirsty Besterman, Daniel Crossley, Amy Cudden, Shereen Martin, Olivia Poulet, Gyuri Sarossy, Peter Singh, Orlando Wells and Rupert Young. The director says: “The joy of doing all nine plays – especially on the ‘nine-play day’ – is that the audience get to know the actors. Maybe it’s just me, but when I watch a show, I want to get close to the people performing. The idea is that the audience experience becomes as crucial as the plays themselves.”
TONIGHT at 8.30 will be at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from Wednesday (May 28) until Saturday, May 31.