Comedy of Manners


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

Breezeblock Park

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set on a Liverpool Housing estate in the run up to Christmas, Breezeblock Park is a comedy about the ups and downs of family life. Betty is preparing the decorations for her guest, and making her house neat and tidy for her guests. But what she hopes will be a respectable Christmas gathering of her daughter Sandra, brother Tim and sister Reeny, becomes a maelstrom of drunken bickering and petty recriminations when Sandra reveals the shocking news that she is pregnant.

One of Russell's first plays, Breezeblock Park was first presented in 1975 at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool before transferring to London that same year.

audio The Constant Wife

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

There’s something Constance Middleton’s friends are dying to tell her: her husband is having an affair – with her best friend! Despite their hints, Constance remains ever cool, and seemingly oblivious. Or is she? In this biting comedy of manners, marriages and mistresses, Constance – a not-so-desperate housewife - has some ideas of her own about extra-marital activity that surprise everyone in the end!

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Kate Burton as Constance Middleton Rosalind Ayres as Barbara Fawcett Mark Capri as Bentley and Mortimer Durham Stephen Collins as Bernard Kersal John De Lancie as John Middleton, F.R.C.S. Jen Dede as Marie-Louise Durham Christina Pickles as Mrs. Culver Kirsten Potter as Martha Culver Directed by Jeanie Hackett. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Kate Burton, Mark Capri, Stephen Collins, John de Lancie, Jen Dede, Tony Palermo(Sound Effects Artist), Christina Pickles, Kirsten Potter

Design for Living

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Design for Living is a wickedly witty romantic comedy of three amoral, glib and stylish characters and their unconventional and hopelessly inescapable entanglement.

From 1930s bohemian Paris to the dizzying heights of Manhattan society, a tempestuous love triangle unravels between the vivacious interior designer Gilda, playwright Leo and artist Otto – three people unashamedly and passionately in love with each other. With Coward’s trademark piquant style, Design for Living looks at dazzling, egotistical creatures and their self-destructive dependence on each other. Exploring themes of bisexuality, celebrity, success and self-obsession, Design for Living is a smart and scandalous comedy.

Initially banned in the United Kingdom for its risqué subject matter, the play premiered on Broadway in 1933.

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.

audio Fallen Angels

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Julia and Fred and Willy and Jane are happily married and the best of friends, until a postcard arrives with news of the imminent arrival of a certain handsome Frenchman. Gay, debonair, and utterly sophisticated.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Annette Bening, Harriet Harris, Judith Ivey, Joe Mantegna, John Rubinstein and Kristoffer Tabori.

Featuring: Annette Bening, Harriet Harris, Judith Ivey, Joe Mantegna, John Rubinstein, Kristoffer Tabori

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.

The Game of Love and Chance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Pierre Marivaux's play The Game of Love and Chance (Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard) is an 18th-century French comedy of manners in the Commedia dell'arte tradition, based on the simplest of plot devices, the exchanging places of master and valet, mistress and maidservant. It was first performed on 23 January 1730 by the Comédie Italienne.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2007.

In the play, a young woman, Silvia, is visited by her betrothed, Dorante, whom she does not know. To get a better idea of the type of person he is, she trades places with her servant, Lisette, and disguises herself. However, unbeknownst to her, her fiancé has the same idea and trades places with his valet, Arlequin. The 'game' pits the two false servants against the two false masters, and in the end, the couples fall in love with their appropriate counterpart.

A comedy of manners is a form of sophisticated comedy, usually set among the fashionable upper classes, in which the characters’ machinations are veiled by their elegant manners and elaborate repartee. The genre can be traced back to the Greek New Comedy but in its modern form was essentially created by Molière in such plays as Les Précieuses ridicules (1658) and Le Médecin malgré lui (1666). In England the genre flowered after the Restoration, following the success of George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (1664). English-language examples include Wycherley’s The Gentleman Dancingmaster (1671), Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Wife (1697), Congreve’s The Way of the World (1700), Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707), Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773), and Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1777). The elegant wit of the comedy of manners was revived in the late 19th century by Oscar Wilde in such plays as Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). In the 20th century some of the plays of Noël Coward, such as Private Lives (1930), belong to this genre.

from Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011)