The Chichester Players are offering a triple bill of Noel Coward one-act plays, including the piece which inspired the celebrated film Brief Encounter.
Tonight at 8.30 was a collection of one-act plays designed as “acting, singing and dancing vehicles” for Coward and Gertrude Lawrence.
The styles and subject matter range from broad farce to intricate comedies of manners to melodrama to romance, giving Coward a chance to show off his range as a playwright and actor.
From them, the Chichester Players have chosen for their triple bill Star Chamber, Family Album and Still Life, running at the Richard Hibbard Studio Theatre at Chichester High School from April 11-13, with Georgina Jackson directing for the Players for the first time.
“Tonight at 8.30 is a series of ten one-act plays,” Georgina says. “Noel Coward had just finishing doing Private Lives with Gertrude Lawrence, and the audience had loved their partnership. The partnership in Private Lives is just amazing anyway! And so he thought he needed to come up with another vehicle for him and Gertie.
“We have chosen three of them and we are doing them in quite an interesting approach which we think will be fun for the audience. We start with Star Chamber which is a mickey-take of committee meetings. You imagine a bunch of actors who all want to talk at the same time and are only interested in themselves and are having to go through the rigmarole of a meeting.
“They are all very eccentric characters, and then the actors become the actors in the subsequent play, Family Album. We want the audience to imagine that the same actors are then presenting the next play.
“Family Album is a bit of a Victorian melodrama set in 1860, so we are going from the 1930s to 1860. It is a family mourning the loss of the patriarch, but there is a lot of enjoying the fact that they are now very, very rich. The madeira flows and so do the home truths! We will be doing the first two with lots of nods to the 1930s and to 1860.
“And then the audience will go off for the interval, and when the come back the set will be transformed into a railway station café in the 1930s, and we are into Still Life (which later became the film Brief Encounter).
“You might think that Still Life is a serious play and it is, compared to some of the others, but you have got some lovely comedy and humour from all the staff at the station. We have got all the drama of the relationship between Laura and Alec interspersed with all the silly things going on around them.
“There is a tendency with Still Life, especially because parts of the film are so famous, to play it all ‘Oh darling, I love you, I love you’, but we are trying to stop it being overly sentimental, overly cliched and trying to make it all more real.”
And you might just think slightly differently of Alec when you view it in this light, Georgina suggests: “There is a point where Alec is trying to get Laura to come back to his friend’s apartment. You see the pressures he is putting on her to conduct an affair. There is a moment where you are thinking ‘Hang on, this might not be the greatest love story!’”
So is he actually a bit of a bounder?
“There is certainly a way you could see it where he is a bit of a cad. When you start drilling into it, you start thinking Laura should have told Alec where to go! We are trying to keep it not overly sentimental… and I do think people might start to see it all rather differently.”
The Noel Coward Triple Bill runs from Thursday to Saturday, April 11-13 at 7.30 pm, with a matinee on Saturday 13 at 2.30 pm. A complimentary cocktail (non-alcoholic alternative available) is included for all those who book in advance via the website http://www.chichesterplayers.org.uk.