REVIEW: A Song at Twilight at Cambridge Arts Theatre - a drama of lost love
- Credit: Archant
A Song At Twilight centres around the writing of autobiographies and how the events of our youth stay with us for the years to come, and bind us in memory to others.
Noël Coward is perhaps most remembered for his light comedies written in the 1920s and 1930s that send up the outrageous follies of the upper classes, with distinctive quick fire dialogue that trills on the tongue and waspishly witty retorts.
He had no less success writing drama with weightier themes, such as his play Still Life (1935) that he adapted into the iconic screenplay of David Lean’s Brief Encounter 10 years later.
The celebrated film tells the story of a forbidden romance, which although is written as a heterosexual relationship is easily understood to express the devastation of lives caused by homosexuality being a criminal offence at that time: those that lived in loveless marriages and those loves that were never to be.
He became the master of writing both cutting repartee exchanged by fabulously self-involved characters and of serious drama in which he captured the rawest and most agonising moments of the human condition, often one entwined with the other.
After 50 years of authoring plays, in 1966 he created his final contribution to the London stage, A Song At Twilight, in which he starred as Sir Hugo Latymer, the highly distinguished novelist residing in a Swiss hotel with his German secretary-cum-wife, Hilde.
Although Coward said the central character was based on writers Somerset Maugham or Max Beerbohm in retirement, Coward’s biographer Sheridan Morley believed it was more autobiographical than he’d let on. Interestingly enough, A Song At Twilight centres around the writing of autobiographies and how the events of our youth stay with us for the years to come, and bind us in memory to others.
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In The Theatre Royal Bath’s production, Latymer is played by seasoned actor Simon Callow, who brings effortless naturalism to the rhythms of Coward’s writing.
The drama takes place in one evening where Sir Hugo is visited by an old flame, former actress Carlotta Gray (Jane Asher) with whom he had a two year romance more than 40 years before.
Carlotta is writing her memoirs and has reappeared in his life after so many years to ask for his endorsement. As the evening unfolds so does our understanding of their past relationship and the hold she has on him in the present day.
“Mediocre actress” Gray, as her past lover Latymer describes her, is pivotal in driving the course of the play. Led by experiences she has harboured since her youth she arrives with an agenda.
The irony of this put down wouldn’t be lost on Coward as Asher is out of her depth in this role. Her delivery is mannered, neither connected to her character’s own experience nor ever truly present in the scenes that are played around her.
The saving grace is Jessica Turner’s Lady Hilde Latymer. Turner’s performance is a nuanced, well-crafted portrayal of a woman who despite a tragic start in life has found joy and acceptance where she can.
When Turner returns to the stage for the final scene she injects life into a production that otherwise stagnates and affords Callow the opportunity to demonstrate his distinguished competence.
No actor is an island. Just as A Song At Twilight, a play that dwells on the later years in life, conjures up a deep nostalgia for what might have been, this production leaves you feeling cheated by a drama that was never fully realised. Director Stephen Unwin fails to find the moments where Gray’s intentions change. We hear them in the script, but never feel them played out before us.
Song at Twilight is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 9.