Reviewed by Tony Peters
Taking real characters and placing them in an unfamiliar or fictional scenario presents all sorts of tantalising possibilities for the playwright and it’s an idea that Jeremy Kingston runs with to witty effect in this revival of his 2004 play.
Shortly after the end of the First World War, Noel Coward, Dickie Mountbatten (accompanied by male companions) and Agatha Christie find themselves as fellow guests at an opulent Devon island hotel.
Things begin to unravel when Christie rejects an idea for her next novel suggested by Mountbatten, dismissing the idea as “treacherous” towards the reader.
Mountbatten’s reaction to Christie’s dismissal seems somewhat over the top until we discover an underlying apprehension about his forthcoming marriage is the real reason for his emotional turmoil. This, and the fact that he sees his social status being eroded following the events of the war.
And what of Christie? What is this young wife and mother doing alone at a hotel under an assumed name?
What follows is an examination of relationships, with Coward centre stage as an unlikely counsellor, and, unsurprisingly, he gets all the best lines in what increasingly becomes a delicious game of verbal ping pong.
Phineas Pett captures Coward’s waspish wit perfectly, although he is sometimes a little over animated, and he’s given fine support by James Phelips as the tortured Mountbatten and a nicely nuanced performance by Helen Duff as Agatha Christie.
A case could be made for some judicious editing — a scene with Coward and Christie at the start of act two goes on far too long and slackens the pace — but it’s generally well marshalled by director Robert Gillespie, who has produced an amusing and sometimes outrageously camp piece that mostly entertains throughout.
Directed by Robert Gillespie
Noel Coward Phineas Pett
Dickie Mountbatten James Phelips
Agatha Christie Helen Duff
Tono David Alderman
J-Boy Matthew Alexander
Cyril Rob Pomfret