Leave It to You"
by Noel Coward
(by Prav, who also designed the production)
/ Sound technician
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.
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
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?
Ham & High:
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.
||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.
Theatre Guide: John
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.