1931-1940

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Plays

After the Dance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance – an attack on the hedonistic lifestyle of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 30s – signalled a more serious direction in his writing after the relative frivolity of the hugely successful French Without Tears. It was first produced at the St James’s Theatre, London, on 21 June l939.

The play's action takes place in the drawing-room of the Scott-Fowlers’ flat in Mayfair, a fashionable part of London. David Scott-Fowler is a successful writer who revels in his hard-drinking and hard-partying lifestyle. He and his wife Joan are still clinging to their Twenties heydays, and are joined in their plush flat by parasitic lodger, John. However, not everyone is convinced by their constant jollities. David’s cousin Peter and his earnest wife Helen remain unimpressed by their almost wilful evasion of their responsibilities. Helen’s attempt to reform David sparks a relationship between the two that turns to love. As a result, Joan, unable to wrestle her husband back, throws herself off the balcony during one of their parties. In the final act, John persuades David, now a broken man, that his relationship with Helen will not survive the heartbreak of losing Joan. But David has no intention of learning from past mistakes and would rather drink himself to death than face the reality of his home life and the looming threat of global war

The premiere production was directed by Michael Macowan, with Martin Walker as John Reid, Hubert Gregg as Peter Scott-Fowler, Gordon Court as Williams, Catherine Lacey as Joan Scott-Fowler, Anne Firth as Helen Banner, Robert Kempson as Dr George Banner, Viola Lyel as Julia Browne, Leonard Coppins as Cyril Carter, Robert Harris as David Scott-Fowler, Millicent Wolf as Moya Lexington, Osmund Willson as Lawrence Walters, Henry Caine as Arthur Power and Lois Heatherley as Miss Potter.

The production opened in June 1939 to euphoric reviews, but only a month later the European crisis was darkening the national mood and audiences began to dwindle. The play was pulled in August after only sixty performances.

The play subsequently sank into obscurity until a BBC TV revival in 1994. It was revived by the Oxford Stage Company at Salisbury Playhouse in October 2002, and subsequently at the National Theatre, London, in June 2010 in a production directed by Thea Sharrock with a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Nancy Carroll and Adrian Scarborough.

The Astonished Heart

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Astonished Heart is the story of a happily married psychiatrist who gradually sinks under the emotional pressure of falling passionately in love with his wife’s friend Leonora. Christian is tortured by jealousy and by his acute professional awareness of his obsession, gradually losing his control but not his fascinating articulacy.

The Astonished Heart is a short play from the Tonight at 8.30 cycle, conceived by Coward as an antidote to the boredom of a long run of the same script. It is a sequence of ten plays to be performed by the same cast in sets of three, alternating matinées and evenings, ranging from farce to melodrama to romantic comedy.

After touring, Tonight at 8.30 was produced at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1936.

audio Awake and Sing!

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Clifford Odets’ masterpiece, starring Mark Ruffalo, Richard Kind and Ben Gazzara, brings to life the struggles of a working-class family aspiring to the promise of the American Dream. Even as they endure the country’s worst economic nightmare, three generations of an immigrant family are crowded into a Bronx tenement, fiercely determined to stay afloat, no matter what the cost.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Emily Bergl as Hennie Berger Ben Gazzara as Jacob Jonathan Hadary as Myron Berger Jane Kaczmarek as Bessie Berger Richard Kind as Uncle Morty Peter Kybart as Schlosser Mark Ruffalo as Moe Axelrod Raphael Sbarge as Sam Feinschreiber Peter Smith as Ralph Berger Directed by Bartlett Sher. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Emily Bergl, Ben Gazzara, Jonathan Hadary, Jane Kaczmarek, Richard Kind, Peter Kybart, Mark Ruffalo, Raphael Sbarge, Peter Smith

Cavalcade

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘It is a magnificent play in which the note of national pride pervading every scene and every sentence must make each one of us face the future with courage and high hopes’ The Daily Mail, 1931. Such was the reception for Coward’s spectacular pageant when it first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Telling the story of a great swathe of history, from the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the coming of the Jazz Age, Coward’s great coup de théâtre was to channel these historical moments through the prism of the lives of one Mayfair family.

Although there have been some revivals, no subsequent production of Cavalcade has ever matched the premiere for its scale. As Sheridan Morley writes in his introduction, ‘Cavalcade was a prodigious feat of sheer stage-management . . . a grandiose stage epic in three acts and twenty-two scenes that was to cost an almost unprecedented thirty-thousand pre-war pounds and to keep a cast and backstage crew of three hundred people employed at Drury Lane for more than a year, playing to a total box office take of well over three hundred thousand pounds. Cavalcade was the kind of show of which a latterday Cameron Mackintosh or Andfrew Lloyd Webber would be proud.’

Charles B. Cochran's 1931 Revue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A sketch for a revue must be quick, sharp, funny (or sentimental) and to the point, with a good, really good black-out line. Whether the performers are naked or wearing crinolines is quite beside the point; the same rule applies'.

Thus did Noël Coward describe the ingredients for a successful revue sketch; in the 1920s and 1930s he mastered and defined the art of the revue – short and often topical or satirical sketches, many of which were a lead-in to a song. He started producing sketches for some of the most famous revues of the period.

Charles B. Cochran's Revue was first presented by Charles B. Cochran at the London Pavilion, on 19 March 1931. It ran for just 27 performances. Although advertised as having 'Music by Noël Coward and others', it in fact had only five Coward numbers and only one of them could be considered as a semi-sketch.

audio The Code of the Woosters

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In the best known of the Bertie and Jeeves series, Bertie's aunt pressures him to steal a silver creamer, and he nearly gets lynched, arrested and engaged by mistake. As always, Jeeves is on hand with a last-minute brainstorm to set everything straight.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Rosalind Ayres, Patrice Egleston, Martin Jarvis, Kelly Nespor, Kenneth J. Northcott, Henry M. Odum, Mark Richard, Nicolas Sandys and Thomas M. Shea.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Patrice Egleston, Martin Jarvis, Kelly Nespor, Kenneth J. Northcott, Henry M. Odum, Mark Richard, Nicolas Sandys, Thomas M Shea

Conversation Piece

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in the decades after the French Revolution, Conversation Piece tells the story of Paul, Duc de Chaucigny-Varennes, who has come to Brighton to escape the terrors in France. In his company is Melanie, a dance hall singer whom Paul passes off as his ward and the offspring of his murdered friend. He hopes to marry her off to a member of Brightonian high society; she, however, has other plans and, with the help of her suitor Edward, tries to outmanoeuvre Lady Julia Charteris, in the hope of getting her heart’s desires.

Writing about the original production, the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It was a big occasion before ever the curtain rose . . . It became a great one as soon as Yvonne Printemps appeared . . . Mr Coward shares her triumph. Or, rather, since he is author, composer, producer and chief male actor in this brilliant show, he enjoys a separate triumph all to himself.'

Conversation Piece, a musical comedy, was first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1934.

Dansen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dansen is a pig farmer and a respectable member of the community. His fellow members of the commerce class in the town often meet, to play cards, sign contracts and sort out disagreements; it is a wholly satisfying way of life.

But this cosy arrangement is upset with the arrival of a stranger, a man who is intent on breaking contracts and instigating the most hostile of takeovers with the point of a pistol. He forces Dansen into collaboration: against his former colleagues, his better judgement and his own interests.

Written in early 1939, Dansen is a one-act agitprop piece which highlights the dangers of appeasement in the face of aggressive behaviour from a self-appointed enemy.

audio Design For Living

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Three terminally stylish friends, who share rivalrous affections, attempt to uncoil their twisted love triangle in this sexy and scandalous gem. Written in 1932, the play was deemed extremely daring, and even by today’s standards is considered controversial. In its frank and funny take on sex, love and commitment, Design for Living proves to be one of Coward’s greatest successes.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Michelle Arthur, Claire Forlani, Thomas Hildreth, Tim Morrison, Sarah Rafferty, Douglas Weston and Hamish Linklater.

Featuring: Michelle Arthur, Claire Forlani, Thomas Hildreth, Tim Morrison, Sarah Rafferty, Douglas Weston, Hamish Linklater

Family Album

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Featherway family are gathered glumly in the drawing room in 1860 after their father’s funeral. But as Madeira is drunk, dressing-up boxes unearthed, songs sung, childhood memories re-discovered and the scandalous secrets of the will revealed, the gloom turns into what Coward described as ‘a sly satire on Victorian hypocrisy.’

Family Album is a short play from Tonight at 8.30, originally starring Gertrude Lawrence and Coward himself, conceived by Coward as an antidote to the boredom of a long run of the same script. It is a sequence of ten plays to be performed by the same cast in sets of three, alternating matinees and evenings, ranging from farce to melodrama to romantic comedy.

After touring, Tonight at 8.30 was produced at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1936.