No, No, Noël: Noël Coward's Christmas Spirits

By Johnny Fox Last edited 49 months ago
No, No, Noël: Noël Coward's Christmas Spirits ★★★★☆ 4

Noël Coward’s Christmas Spirits  at St James Theatre
Written and Directed by Nick Hutchison 
Starring Stefan Bednarczyk, Issy van Randwyck and Charlotte Wakefield
Musical Direction by Stefan Bednarczyk
Designed by Annie Gosney
Keep The Home Fires Gurning: production photo by Marc Douet

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Richly fruited old theatricals don’t come much more Londony or patriotic than Teddington-born, Pimlico-raised Noël Coward. He even wrote our Blitz-surviving anthem London Pride. Yes, apart from him being a tax exile in Switzerland and Jamaica, Coward was London through and through.

Beyond a first name stemming from his December birthday, there is little to link Coward specifically to the festive season, so it's a slightly rare confection for writer and director Nick Hutchinson to mash a handful of seasonal songs with random Christmas and wartime readings, and a few uncharacteristically saccharine snatches from Noel's letters and diaries.  Some of it's predictable, some surprisingly apt.

He is blessed, though, in Stephan Bednarczyk, with a leading man who not only looks more Coward-like than Coward himself, but sings better too and plays the piano beautifully both when accompanying himself, and the two accompanying women.

Set in Christmas 1940 — when the author was struggling with Blithe Spirit — Coward summons up Madame Arcati in the form of a gurning Issy van Randwyck, who speaks the lines as though reading from a Berlitz phrasebook. She sings too, but the adjacent Australian critic didn't believe us when we told him she'd had an extensive musical career before opting for wife and motherhood with Ed (Hampstead Theatre) Hall.  She is much better at the comic numbers, and the readings: Coward's poem about air raids Lie In The Dark And Listen is revelatory and haunting, showing a side of him you may not know from his frothy comedies and waspish lyrics. Listen for the line about 'soft hysterical little actors'.

Charlotte Wakefield, so brilliant as Maria in the Sound of Music at Regent's Park last year — and here dressed fetchingly as a land girl — is also on hand to deliver some charming and choice vocals including a breathtakingly understated White Christmas and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Yes, we know Coward didn't write either of those — it's that kind of an evening.

Ding dong merrily, sometimes on a high.

Noel Coward's Christmas Spirits continues at the St James's Theatre studio until 23 December.  Tickets £25.  Runs approximately 2 hours including an interval. There are several matinees, check the theatre website for details.

We saw this on a press ticket from the PR team at the St James's Theatre.  

Last Updated 12 December 2014