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Star Quality

The Noël Coward Collection
BBC Video
(2008)

Star Quality, adapted by Stanley Price from a Coward short story and directed by Alan Dossor in 1985, is a delightfully bitchy insight into what life was like behind-the-scenes in the post-war British theatre.

It stars Susannah York as Lorraine Barry, a theatrical grande dame who not only has a star's quality but that unmistakable temperament that leading ladies delight in using to get their own way. In this case, though, she meets her match, in the shape of director Ray Malcolm, played by Ian Richardson.

Everything about this extremely funny portrait of the rehearsal processes leading up to a glorious opening night is entirely believable, if always catty.

Cigar-smoking producer JC Roebuck, portrayed by Clive Swift, unsubtly ensures that a play by an unknown which otherwise would not have a hope of becoming a West End hit is transformed by the selection of its star. This all sounds like something that could easily be happening today, although now the big name is as likely to come from across the Atlantic.

Nervous young playwright, Peter Chelsom's Bryan Snow, is smitten by the unsubtle approaches of his leading lady but Malcolm is far harder to win over. The humour is constant but, when the chips are down, the pair enter into a stunningly realistic argument that seems destined to leave the show bereft of its draw card.

This is all great fun and has the feeling of autobiography, although Coward might have put parts of himself into both Bryan Snow and Ray Malcolm to varying degrees.

Susannah York plays her part to the manner born and Ian Richardson is equally good in a very different style. They receive good support all round, particularly from a very young looking David Yelland playing Malcolm's assistant director/lover Tony.

This 80 minute film is highly recommended and, arguably, more enjoyable than some of the far better known plays in this series.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher