Noël Coward

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Plays by Noël Coward

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 Blithe Spirit

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

This classic comedy is set in the charming country home of Charles Condomine, a re-married widower. A witty and convivial evening party among friends is transformed when a séance conjures the ghost of Elvira, Charles’ first wife, who delights in wreaking havoc among the living. An enchanting Coward comedy!

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Rosalind Ayres, Alexandra Boyd, Judy Geeson, Shirley Knight, Lynne Marta, Christopher Neame and Ian Ogilvy.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Alexandra Boyd, Judy Geeson, Shirley Knight, Lynne Marta, Christopher Neame, Ian Ogilvy

Brief Encounter

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Your heart dances. The world seems strange and new. You want to laugh and skip and fall forever… You are in love. You are in love with the wrong person. Laura, the respectable suburban wife, and Alec, the idealistic, married doctor, meet in a station buffet, fall passionately in love but are doomed never to find fulfilment.

David Lean's iconic 1945 movie, Brief Encounter, was written by Noël Coward and was based on one of his one-act plays, Still Life, written a decade earlier. This version for the stage was adapted by Emma Rice, Artistic Director of Kneehigh Theatre Company, bringing this timeless tale of joy and heartache into the theatre. Also included within the romantic action are nine songs originally written by Coward.

Kneehigh’s production Brief Encounter was first presented by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld at the Cinema Haymarket on 2 February 2008.

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.

Come into the Garden Maud: from Suite in Three Keys

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Come into the Garden Maud is the final play in the trilogy, Suite in Three Keys, in which each play is set in the same Swiss hotel suite. It was written by Coward in 1966, and represents the last of his output for the stage before he died.

Anna-Mary Conklin and her husband Verner are an exceedingly wealthy American couple and the stars of Come into the Garden Maud. While Anna-Mary, a social-aspirant, is nervously throwing a dinner-party offstage to entertain a prince she wants to impress, Verner – who cares little for the niceties of society life – gets along very well with the aristocratic, but down-to-earth, Maud Caragnani – very well indeed.

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.

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

Easy Virtue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Easy Virtue, John Whittaker brings home his new wife for the first time. Some years older than her husband, Larita is a woman of class, beauty and experience, with a worldview, we find, in stark contrast to the single-minded morality of her new sisters- and mother-in-law.

At first a tense truce reigns, but after a summer of boredom and mental lassitude, Larita is confronted with the facts of her past: scandalous according to her outraged in-laws; but mere truth to Larita, who refuses to be brow-beaten into hypocrisy by the priggish social system of her new relations.

In the introduction to Coward’s Collected Plays: One Sheridan Morley wrote: “Easy Virtue is essentially The Second Mrs Tanqueray brought up to date... What is intriguing about the play, apart from the light it throws on Coward as a craftsman working from the models of his immediate theatrical and social past, is the way it mocks the conventions, prejudices and complacencies of its period while remaining well inside the drawing-room barricades. No writer of Noël’s generation ever went more directly to the jugular of that moralistic, tight-lipped but fundamentally Twenties society.”

Easy Virtue was first performed in New York in 1926.

Fallen Angels

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Fallen Angels is a biting, hilarious comedy about the rivalry between two bored married women as they await the arrival of their exotic former lover. Dramatising female sexual desire and frustration, the play’s first performances in 1925 outraged the critics, who proclaimed it to be shocking and obscene.

As Jane and Julia’s lacklustre husbands set off for a golfing weekend, a postcard arrives announcing the imminent visit of the dashing Maurice. This sets in play an evening of drunkenness and fevered anticipation, as Jane and Julia wait for dinner with their guest, and former lover. Host to hilarious interchanges and brilliant slapstick, the scenes also radically question female friendship, rivalry and sexual behaviour. What will happen when Maurice arrives? Can Jane and Julia’s relationship actually be maintained, as they claim?

Rather than insulting British womanhood (as its scandalised opponents asserted) Coward’s sharp, entertaining script incisively draws attention to male sexual hypocrisy, while probing the vacuous lives of the play's privileged protagonists.

Picture of Noël Coward

Noël Coward was born in 1899 in Teddington, Middlesex. He made his name as a playwright with The Vortex (1924), in which he also appeared. His numerous other successful plays included Fallen Angels (1925), Hay Fever (1925), Private Lives (1933), Design for Living (1933) and Blithe Spirit (1941). During the war he wrote screenplays such as Brief Encounter (1944) and In Which We Serve (1942).

In the fifties he began a new career as a cabaret entertainer. He published volumes of verse and a novel (Pomp and Circumstance, 1960), two volumes of autobiography and four volumes of short stories: To Step Aside (1939), Star Quality (1951), Pretty Polly Barlow (1964) and Bon Voyage (1967). He was knighted in 1970 and died three years later in Jamaica.