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Pentameters theatre present


Waiting in the Wings


by Noel Coward


Directed by Aline Waites


Produced by Leonie Scott-Matthews


Pentameters Theatre


31 August – 18 September 2010







A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The ironic thing about staging Waiting in the Wings at the Pentameters Theatre is that there aren’t any. Wings I mean. It’s one of London’s most economical theatres: a performance room and a staircase. If only the play had been this economical. As it happens, Coward’s 50th play (that turns 50 on 6th September), which focuses on the twilight years of famous and not-so-famous actresses, is not quite the eloquent and dignified snapshot you might expect from a man who spent his life in theatre.

Waiting in the Wings is a lamenting fandango which traces retired actresses as they air their fears, prides and regrets inside the walls of their well-furnished and well-populated care home. Feuds, conspiracies and doomsayers sometimes ruffle feathers, but largely the ladies get on. There’s a scandal in the form of an undercover reporter, romance as a young toy-boy of 70 tries his luck with an ever off-stage nonagenarian, and lingering remorse as one old diva begins to lose her mind.

It’s difficult to judge whether this production’s weakness lay in the script or the direction. Being Coward, you’d be inclined to excuse the writing, but this might not be fair. The script has its witty gems but it lacks the pace of his earlier successes like Hay Fever or The Vortex. The stage often feels too busy and one might think this eminent playwright could have found a more interesting way of suggesting the claustrophobia of the retreat. Having said this, the scenes, though unwieldy, sometimes drag.  Perhaps stricter direction from Aline Waites would have injected some more electricity into the action and ironed out some of the script’s creases.

However, there is some fine acting - Frances Cuka holds the pride and bitterness of the crafty lead, May Davenport, well. But the sharpest performances came from Maggie McCourt as the playful, endearing and heart-rending basket case Sarita, closely followed by Hilary Hodson dutiful and pathetic Dora.  David Lee-Jones also grows masterfully into his part of the wet and doting housekeep, Perry, and Patricia Leventon comically woeful Biblical warnings as Deirdre provide the most entertaining moments of the show. That said, the play also contains one of the most confusing pieces of acting I’ve ever witnessed - Rick Alancroft’s cameo as Alan, Lotta’s son, which was a great deal more awkward than Coward ever could have intended. His unconvincing Canadian accent hindered his articulation, and the unnaturalness of his presence on stage was only spared total failure due to the fact that he was, in the script, uninvited and unwanted. It may seem harsh to highlight this apparent isolated weakness, but I do so because it is the clearest window into the uneven nature of the piece as a whole, and sheds light on just how difficult a play it is to produce.

The play’s greatest success is undoubtedly the set - one could have been walking through one of the Geffrye Museum’s perfectly reconstructed period rooms. It had everything: gaslights, a barometer, a marble bust, a grandfather clock, period photos, marble solitaire, candlesticks, a newspaper rack … and even, eventually, a solarium. The small stage holds the furniture well, and the layout means that even viewers who sit on extreme stage left or stage right are equally serviced with action. It’s always a treat to see a designer (applaud to John Dalton) go all out, and despite any flaws in script or delivery, the set ensures you always feel it is theatre of a noble class. The costumes are equally supreme - an array of textured turbans grace the head of Jackie Skarvellis (who also deserves commendation for her aloof and superior Cora), and the fur coats, silk shawls and gaudy jewellery that decorate the ladies are much what you’d expect from ex-performers who feel they should still be in the limelight.

Waiting in the Wings would be an ambitious selection for any company, and I was warmed to see the effort and personality that Leonie Scott-Matthews brought to the event. Her pithy and heartfelt introduction to the show felt genuinely welcoming, and her rightful cameo as Topsy Baskerville in the closing moments gives a homely feel which confirms her commitment and integrity. This was never going to be a trend-setting, mind-blowing or shell-shocking production, but if you have passion for theatre like they do at the Pentameters, why not indulge in a touch of commemoration for a man who gave so much to the stage.




Box Office: 0207 435 3648

Pentameters Theatre
28 Heath St


31st August – 18th September; Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 5pm

Tickets: £12/10






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