The Vortex

This is the play that turned Noel Coward into a star.

Written by the 24-year-old Coward, with a lead role, Nicky, penned for himself, its scandalous storyline of London Society’s promiscuity shocked many. Nicky, a young musician, returns from a spell savouring the decadence of Paris, with a fiancé in tow and some dubious new habits. In his absence, his socialite mother, Florence, has amused herself with the latest in a succession of lovers half her age. Whilst the partying and sparkling wit continues, it leads inevitably to an emotional showdown between mother and son.

It made Coward not only an overnight sensation but delivered a huge commercial success. It is now recognised as a masterpiece, marrying all of Coward’s trademark wit and trenchant one-liners with a powerful emotional vortex.

The Cherry Orchard

There is no question about it: Cherry Orchard is exactly as Chekhov described it, a comedy with moments of pure farce. Madame Ranevskya`s estate is bankrupt. To meet their debts the family house and its famous cherry orchard must be sold. The family finds this an absurd idea and cannot accept that the world is changing. To tell a story with infinite compassion of people hopelessly incapable of dealing with realty, and in a comedic way, and laced with sadness, is the stuff of genius. Chekhov`s characters are delightful, vigorous, absurd people, loveable in their blindness.

Because it first saw life in Russia in 1904, to see the play as prescient of events that followed in Russia is to diminish the depth and wonder of this masterpiece, that in its profound understanding of human nature is limitless as to time and place, as its ever presence on a stage somewhere in the world testifies.

At the end we may say `you are fools` as we see this household lightly embark on a future believing that tomorrow will be different, because we know that life will defeat them.

Temple Review – by Peter McGarry

Conflict lies at the heart of all drama and it comes in many forms.

This remarkable play looks at conflict in the context of conscience and how it decides or dictates a person’s decisions and deeds.

It fictionalises what could have taken place behind the scenes of a real event – the 2011  occupation by austerity protestors which actually caused the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral. But this is not so much about that flag-waving gesture as the mental turmoil inflicted on the clergy hierarchy indoors. As such it’s a daring and courageous piece of theatre for a local company to tackle.

The skill of this fine Loft production is its ability to examine what could be seen as a word-heavy script by maximising its potency as powerful theatre coupled with flashes of delightful humour.

There are no pat answers to the problems facing the Dean, the Bishop and the Canon Chancellor. Sue Moore’s subtle direction and a splendid set of actors enable us to understand their frustrations. Although the protest issue is not even concerned with religion, the unanswerable question revolves around which side deserves the true moral right of resolution.

The agony of the dilemma is revealed in another stunning performance by Phil Reynolds whose Dean readily admits his own lack of leadership flair but holds fast to his self-belief. Battering at his sensibility are Michael Barker’s strongly rebellious Canon Chancellor and Jeremy Heynes’s fluffy, old-school Bishop.

These characters are vividly brought to life, along with others inextricably caught in the crossfire and delivered in style by Kate Willis and Cathryn Bowler.

On the fringe of the clergy clashes, there is delicious work from Elizabeth Morris whose portrayal of an eager-to-please PA prompts memories of the great Joyce Grenfell.  And Richard Moore’s stately Chapter House set design stamps its authority with lasting effect.

We might never know what actually went on behind those closed clergy doors. But this interpretation offers very digestible food for thought.

Peter McGarry