Volcano

Mon 16th – Sat 21st July 2012

reviews

Dewei Jia

at 00:09 on 17th Jul 2012

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Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright bring back the forgotten masterpiece ‘Volcano’ with an all-star cast and the heat of the impending eruption. It is deliberately ‘forgotten’ - unperformed in Coward’s lifetime, due to its shocking depiction of marriage infidelity, sex and bisexuality. Widowed Adela (Jenny Seagrove) is attracted and pursued by playboy Guy Littleton (Jason Durr). Her visiting friend Ellen Danbury, who was is attracted by Guy and Guy’s acid-tongued glamorous wife Melissa (Dawn Steele) stirs the muddy affair up and brings an emotional eruption.

Three women are the heart and soul of the play and a vivid representation of Coward's lavish Caribbean life style. Dawn Steele’s embittered wife is a defined character to be sympathized with. It seems that Steele enjoys her character's catty one-liners and witty knowledge of her husband, and turns it to be a complex one, both to be loved and to be sorry for.

Steele's elegancy and charm are in huge contrast to Perdita Avery’s innocent Ellen. A married woman, an unsatisfied mom hungry for love and care, Ellen doubted her husband’s love and is in pursuit of more. Avery is innocently costumed in an either ivory or flora dress – both indicate her unsophisticated love with Guy. In the scene of the ‘apology’, when Ellen and Melissa unravel their love to Guy, the huge contrast between these two characters is interestingly manifested in front of the audience. They are so different in their form and reason of love or lust but they both are virtuous in their own way. Steele and Avery make this bitter scene emotionally delicate.

Leading the cast, Seagrove’s skinny, graceful widow is fragile yet strong. She illustrates the old fashioned virtuous woman by her tentative love and definite refusal before and after the volcanic eruption, when she learned some hidden aspect of Guy. Seagrove’s decisive performance made this uninteresting character a delightful gem.

The lightning and special effects are stunning and effective. At the moment when volcano erupts, lights flash with the collapsing frieze. Deafening sounds effectively put the audience in the scene of the eruption.

I enjoyed the play, because of the identifying women in it and its modern relevance. The bizarre creature Guy is said to be the autobiographical Coward himself. I must doubt this, at least the Guy in this production, who is by no means adorable. It is instead warning of similar nuisances in life.

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Thomas Stell

at 02:28 on 17th Jul 2012

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In 1956 Coward left England for Jamaica where he would stay and entertain the likes of Olivier, Gielgud, and Katharine Hepburn until his death in ’73. “Volcano” is a product of this late period. It lacks the fluency and brilliance of some of his earlier plays, but it does have a quality of its own, and an atmosphere I have not seen elsewhere in his work.

To the Pacific island of Samolo, to the house of Adela Shelley, widow and plantation owner, come the men and women of three couples. They are like the protagonists of early Coward but grown older, not just in their age but in that they seem appallingly tired. They go about making love and having affairs and quarrelling, but have become dull and petty, without the glamour that would have justified them. They are part of a world that, as the critic Beverley Baxter suggested of Coward’s style itself, did not survive the war. Behind the house stands an active volcano which creaks and murmurs but has no very destructive eruption, as if as a hard creation of the characters’ own loves and histories.

The place seems dense and heavy with tropical danger, and a kind of brooding lushness; the same that one sees in “Night of the Iguana”. It is not a setting conducive to sharp dialogue and brittle humour, and into it Coward’s signature aphorisms fall like sad old raindrops, as if mourning the bright world they used to inhabit. Thus we have a strange mingling of elements from social comedy and a Tennessee Williamsish atmosphere of regret that is not ineffective, and I admire the play’s favouring of impression over a very driven plot, even if I did wonder a little whether we couldn’t have just had a Tennessee Williams, the evocation of such an atmosphere being stronger there.

The set is a realistic veranda, garden, and rainforest slope, lit unobtrusively. Robin Sebastian is very likeable as decent-sort Robin Craigie, but most of the performances are not remarkable. There were a few imperfections in the detail, as some of the costumes were not quite period (whether or not notched lapels on a dinner jacket are technically wrong they certainly look it) and Jenny Seagrove’s low, husky voice for Adela, no doubt supposed to imply age and sorrow, fell short of that and landed somewhere in the “actorly” category. Given that, I was not sure whether Finty Williams's very slightly plebeian accent for Grizelda Craigie was deliberate or not - certainly realistic accents for this period and class are something a lot of today’s actors find hard.

Still, a fair production that puts the script on stage well enough, and the script is worth performing. Many will find it interesting to see a less famous Coward play, to see how Coward works in the tropics.

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