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"I'll Leave It to You"
by Noel Coward

Pentameters Theatre

2009

Cast list

Photography
(by Prav, who also designed the production)

Reviews

Press Release

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Mrs Anne Dermott
Karin Fernald
Oliver
Marcus McSorley
Sylvia
Natalie Goodwin
Evangeline
Olivia O'Brien
Bobbie
Luke Kempner
Joyce
Amy Dawson
Daiel David
Harry Meacher
Mrs Crombie
Carola Stewart
Faith Crombie
Emily-Jane Boyle
Griggs
Adam Lewis
 
Directed by
Bryan Hands
Designed by
Prav
Assistant Director
Carola Stewart
Costumes
Andrew McRobb
Poster
Charles York
Set painted by
John Dalton
Lighting / Sound technician
Alisa Morris
ASM / understudy
Ellen Dick

I'll Leave It to You: the family at breakfast

1st September 2009
The Times: Benedict Nightingale

When the 20-year-old Noël Coward was waiting for the start of rehearsals for I’ll Leave It to You, he told a friend that he’d hate to have a settled income. “It would,” the wunderkind grandly explained, “take away my determination to succeed.” And that suggests that he had taken personally the moral of the play, in which a supposedly rich man prods, manipulates, bribes and wins his idle nephews and dependent nieces over to work, work, profitable work.

The enterprising little Pentameters claims that the play hasn’t had a professional production since 1920, when it gave Coward his first West End showing, though one that lasted only 37 performances. It’s easy to see reasons for its neglect. It’s predictable, has a sentimental ending and skims across surfaces like a paper boat in a breeze. Yet it’s also lively, diverting and of real interest to Coward fans, foreshadowing as it does much that was to come later and better in Coward’s career.

“I’ve been a little worried,” says Karin Fernald’s affably scatty Mrs Dermott as she enters the comfily tumbledown drawing room Prav has designed for Bryan Hands’s fine production. “You see, we’re ruined.” By that she means she may have to sell Mulberry Manor, though there’s no suggestion that she’ll also sack her butler and cook. And her five adult or growing children’s solution? To expect Uncle Daniel, a prospector about to arrive from South America, to bail them out. But Harry Meacher’s sly, whiskery Daniel has subtler ideas. He is, he announces, doomed soon to die and will leave his fortune to whichever kid promises to be the greatest success. Maybe the winner will be Luke Kempner’s Bobbie, who fancies himself a composer and wants to marry a spoiled girl whom the family hates, or maybe it will be one of his siblings.

I can’t reveal what ensues, though the nature of Dan’s allegedly fatal illness, sleeping sickness, hints that trickery is in the air. Uncle has a ruse to get everyone busying away — and, yes, it works.

There always were two Cowards — the surprisingly conventional piano salesman’s son from Teddington and the debonair wit who couldn’t flee the suburbs fast enough — and both are on show here. The theme might come from an earnest self-help book.

The second Noël reveals himself in the character of Bobbie, whom he played in a trademark dressing gown in the original production. “I hope you get some horrid Scotch marmalade-maker who says ‘hoots’ and drops haggis down his waistcoat” is this precocious dandy’s reaction to emotional rejection. Just the way his successors were to feel and talk in Hay Fever and Private Lives, don’t you agree?

I'll Leave It to You: Mrs Dermott and her brother Daniel

Ham & High: Aline Waites
3rd September 2009

THIS is a quaint old fashioned play written in the 1920s and is played here quite correctly as a period piece. Noel Coward wrote it when he was 20 and as far as I know it has never been performed since that very first production.  All are typical 20s characters with bits borrowed from here and there; the large manor house requiring massive upkeep; the incredibly daffy mother; the layabout children who have no idea how to make a living and the butler whose services are retained despite the impecunious state of the family.  It is a clever title and the idea, though a little old hat, is amusingly written, but I wonder whether it would stand up without the expert performers who inhabit the 20s characters with enormous skill and panache. 

I'll Leave It to You: Oliver and Faith The widowed mother and the jobless children have just learned they are completely broke but they are hopeful that rich Uncle Daniel (Harry Meacher) will turn up to redeem the family fortunes.  Bobbie (Luke Kempner) is an amateur songwriter in love with a girl named Faith (Emily-Jane Boyle) who is obviously not interested unless there are monetary possibilities. Faith has a dragon of a mother (played by Carola Stewart) who is trying to prevent the marriage of her daughter to a presumably penniless artist. Evangeline (Olivia O'Brien) writes his song lyrics and could probably write a novel if she put her mind to it. Oliver (Marcus McSorley) is a car mechanic, Sylvia (Natalie Goodwin) is pretty good at flower arranging and jumble sales and little Joyce is a lacklustre schoolgirl.  Daniel manages to galvanise them into action. Meacher is totally correct as the gregarious but louche Daniel and Karin Fernald is divine as the dotty mother. There is also much fun involving the lovesick Bobbie and his pretty but hilariously stupid girlfriend.  As in days of yore, the play is in three acts with two intervals and Prav Menon-Johansson's set has French windows; standard lamps and a piano plus many period details. Direction by Bryan Hands is delightfully camp.

British Theatre Guide: John Thaxter

This delightful rarity, happily revived by the Logos theatre company, is the comedy that gave the 20-year old Noel Coward his very first taste of West End success as a playwright. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Great War it finds a family of youthful slackers and their distraught mama caught short of cash and prospects in the economic downturn. But a mysterious uncle with a life-threatening malady and mining interests in South America is soon on hand to promise his entire fortune to the nephew or niece who carves out the best career and makes good. The effect is electric and by the time he next puts in an appearance the two boys and their three sisters have become a powerhouse of engineering, Tin Pan Alley music-making, movie acting, authorship and scholastic achievement.

The lightest of light comedies, pre-echoing Coward's Hay Fever, the play might have gone no further than a tryout at the Manchester Gaiety in May 1920, with Noel himself in the lead, where it ran for just 24 performances. But Coward's dazzling wit had charmed Lady Wyndham, whose husband owned the New Theatre. As Mary Moore, she bravely funded a West End transfer in late July, which won first night cheers and excellent reviews but, given a London heat wave, dreadful box office returns. Indeed by the fourth week and with adamantine economy its thrifty producer halved the stage lighting, plunging the final week of performances into gloom. But it's also worth noting that this was the first Coward play to be seen in the US, given a Boston premiere in 1923 but not New York, and a successful UK tour by the Noel Coward company in the autumn of 1932, in the wake of acclaim for his Drury Lane hit Cavalcade.

I'll Leave It to You: Mrs Crombie

But the stand-out performances belong to Harry Meacher as Uncle Dan, a James McNeill Whistler figure in gent's natty suitings, and Natalie Goodwin as his favourite niece Sylvia, a fresh face in silent movies with a dazzling beauty, half Merle Oberon, half Kristin Scott Thomas and with a talent to match. It was probably not Coward's intention to give this attractive pair more than an opportunity to shine as dazzling sophisticates recognising each others charms. But as now played they are clearly on the brink of an incestuous but highly enjoyable love affair, with a sexy languor that looks like an audition for a revival of Private Lives. Romantic comedy performances of this quality deserve your immediate attention because this lovely production is scheduled to end its all too short run on 12th September.

I'll Leave It to You: Evangeline and Joyce with Mother

 

So much for history. Now , with no skimping on the set or lighting, Logos director Bryan Hands is giving Coward completists and Hampstead theatregoers a huge treat with a strongly cast, beautifully staged revival that creates the sumptuous Mulberry Manor sitting room, designed by Prav Menon-Johansson, on a stage as wide as the average West End theatre, complete with french windows, upstage door, panelled walls and upright piano, plus some lovely period furniture and wall hangings. Performances include terrific turns by Karin Fernald as the flustered but doting mother and Carola Stewart as her old friend, a flashy Bracknellish matron with a marriageable daughter and an eye on the main chance. But given that Coward was writing a witty central performance for himself the best lines go to suave Luke Kempner as the piano-playing tunesmith Bobbie, in a silk dressing gown and with a suitably clipped delivery, unwisely in love with Emily-Jane Boyle's wide-eyed, fortune hunting Faith. She was originally played by Coward's collaborator Esme Wynne, typecast as a pretty, self-assured but (not over intelligent) girl. Here their third-act romantic stand-off is brilliantly choreographed as the disillusioned Bobbie ends up flat on his back, while the inaptly named Faith walks out on her, as yet, far from rich suitor.

I'll Leave It to You: Sylvia with Uncle Daniel

Remotegoat: Louise Davies

Hampstead's Pentameters Theatre has been filling North West London with poetry and drama for the past 41 years. Under the watchful eye of founder Leonie Scott-Matthews classics have been revived, new works showcased, and promising careers launched. It is therefore fitting that Noel Coward's 'I'll Leave It To You' is making its first professional London outing since the 1920s here, with possibly a new star in the making.

It's hard to believe this light-as-a-feather comedy has been dormant for so long. The piece is simply delightful, and with a smallish cast and no real technical demands it appears to be a producer's dream. Set in a time of recession, post-First World War, it also doffs a hat to our own economic crisis yet is frothy and silly enough to allow us something to chuckle at rather than something to wallow in.

Prav Menon-Johansson's design is brilliant, transforming the Pentameters stage into Mrs Dermott's much loved country house, Mulberry Manor. Hopefully this set lasts the run, as part of the door frame fell down during the performance I saw (but this was very well handled by Marcus McSorley as the eldest son Oliver), and the few inconsistencies with props were certainly easy to forgive and forget. The whole cast looked splendid: every inch the 1920s family with Emily-Jane Boyle's Faith Crombie appearing particularly spot-on.

Amy Dawson as youngest daughter Joyce is a talent to watch out for. From the moment she stomped on to the stage complaining about the beastly weather she was captivating, giving a truly remarkable performance throughout. She reminds me of a young Juliet Stevenson and was thrilling to watch even in the scenes where she had little to say. Another favourite was Harry Meacher's Uncle Dan: a lovable rogue whom you would forgive anything, unless you happen to be on the receiving end on his latest scheme. Meacher had a commanding presence on stage and the clipped Coward style dripped effortlessly from him.

It was however a mixed cast and some of the other actors were a little over eager, trying too hard to transport us back in time and often speaking so fast that key lines were lost. Luke Kempner did a good job with Bobbie, the part Coward originally played himself, although he did have the most interesting storyline and some truly delicious one-liners. His one-on-one interludes with Faith (who I would've loved to be a little more gold-digging and a little less dim) were wonderful and provided the most amusing moments of the evening.

Click on the image below for press release.

I'll Leave It to You: press release

This is a three act play with two 10 minute intervals and the timing was perfect. My theatre companion Miss M and I had a really enjoyable night, both concluding that 'I'll Leave It To You' is indeed a hidden gem unearthed. Thank you Logos Theatre Company for bringing it back to life.

I'll Leave It to You:  ensemble shot

 

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