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A CurtainUp London Review
Home Chat is about an alleged adultery and two consequential adulteries. Now the Finborough usually mounts pitch perfect productions of these rarities but I am sorry I cannot say that about Home Chat. I might agree with Noel Coward that this isn't a very good play but the production does not help and the sound levels are uncomfortable in this tiny venue.
The opening is deafening. On a wooden table decorated with a lace tablecloth sits a stationary miniature train (Could this be 00 gauge?) while we hear very loud music and the sounds of a train crashing. Novelist Paul Ebony (Tim Chipping) is at home fighting off the attention of a feigned winsome widow, Mavis Wittersham (Clare Lawrence Moody). To underline her specially flirtatious relationship with Paul Ebony, a married man, Mavis insists on calling him Paolo. Paul Ebony's mother in law Mrs Violet Chilham (Joanna David) arrives wanting to see her daughter Janet after Janet's trip to France. Slowly it emerges that Janet has been in train crash in France and the only survivors in her carriage are a man called Peter Chelsworth and herself.
Enter Paul's mother, the dragon, Mrs Agnes Ebony (Polly James) ready to pour denigration on her daughter in law being caught in a Wagon Lit, a railway sleeping carriage, with a man who isn't her husband. A stranger knocks, again far too loudly at the door. She is Lavinia Hardy (Nelly Harker), Peter Chelsworth's fiancee who is nervous and upset.
Janet arrives home from the dreadful journey with Peter and instead of everyone giving thanks for their safe return, they are concerned about the scandal and why they were sharing a carriage. Janet, played at full volume and assertiveness by Zoe Waites, decides to show her disgust with the assembled family by claiming that indeed she and Peter are having an affair. That is as much plot as I can give you without spoilers.
What this feisty performance does is to convince us that Janet already knows her own mind, and that this misunderstanding is a good excuse to ditch her doubting and rather boring husband Paul. Because Janet starts with such a fierce approach, there is literarily no journey for her to travel, no new place for her to find any new confidence in herself. It makes it hard for us to believe her when she says, "I am shirking off the chains that have shackled me for so long — I have suddenly come to realise that I am a woman — a living, passionate, pulsating woman – it never occurred to me before." Really?
The production is beautifully dressed with cloche hats and low waisted dresses and jackets. I loved Robert Hazle's (playing the butler Pallett) rendition between scenes of some of Noel Coward's fabulous songs, "Dance Little Lady" and "Sail Away" and "A Talent to Amuse", a genuine stab at creating the understated Cowardian atmosphere of the 1920s after the boisterous, personality plus Janet Ebony. The two mothers in law going head to head is also worth watching as they take up cudgels on behalf of their offspring.
The second half is more enjoyable more because the slimy Mavis comes into her own, inheriting the affection of Janet's husband, whom she has long set her cap at. Clare Lawrence Moody is quite simply superb as the conniving, priggish woman who has at last got Paolo in her sights.
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Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Martin Parr
Starring: Zoe Waites, Joanna David, Polly Adams
With: Tim Chipping, Philip Correia, Richard Dempsey, Nelly Harker, Robert Hazle, Clare Lawrence Moody
Set Designed by Rebecca Brower
Costume Designed by Charlotte Espiner
Sound Design: Pete Malkin
Lighting Design: Christopher Nairne
Running time: Two Hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking to 24th September 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd September 2016 performance at The Finborough, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 8ED (Tube: Earls Court)
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