Thirties Fans Only

19720914-09Cowardy Custard Directed by Wendy Toye, with Patricia Routledge, Elaine Delmar, Derek Waring, John Moffatt. At the Mermaid Theatre.

I went to a marvellous party, and although I paid for my seat, I felt rather like a gate crasher. Tottering dowagers with ga-ga escorts, exquisite young men in pin-stripe suits and immaculate haircuts, aged flappers and drunken ‘cads’, and for God’s sake, I swear I saw Somerset Maugham! The audience were the sort of people you thought had vanished from the face of the earth — but there they were, like an animated Scarfe cartoon.

We settled down, chattered madly through the overture (the overture?!) then sighed and reminisced through a lovely medley of Coward favourites which introduced us to the cast. It was here that doubt began to set in. While the well-known favourites – I’ll See You Again, Play Orchestra Play, You Were There, obviously stood the test of time, there were far too many that didn’t, and it wasn’t until almost definitive versions of I’ve been to a Marvellous Party by Patricia Routledge and The Stately Homes Of England by 4 of the men, that the evening began to show any sign of promise. The first half ended with Why Must the Show Go On? and it was difficult not to ask ‘Why indeed?’.

The London sequence which opened Part 2 with the cast dressed like Pearly Queens on acid, was an extended disaster, and Patricia Routledge almost wiped out her earlier triumph in a dire, sentimental and patronising monologue I’ve Just Come Out From England with which Mr. Coward presumably bored the troops to death during his many overseas tours of the last war.

Elaine Delmar belted her songs loud and clear, but was clearly wrong for Coward’s deceptively fragile melodies, and Una Stubbs managed to be coyer than even her Cliff Richard Show appearances would lead you to believe.

All told, one for those of you only heavily into 30s nostalgia.

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