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The Vortex

The Noël Coward Collection
BBC Video
(2008)

With Sir Peter Hall's production starring Felicity Kendal in London at the moment, this seems a good time to review the BBC's selected version for The Noël Coward Collection. Filmed as far back as 1969, Philip Dudley's TV film stars Margaret Leighton as the terrifyingly self-centred Florence Lancaster.

This dark play, which made Coward's name when it was first seen in 1923, is set amongst the vacuous cocktail set enjoying the heady 1920s for all that they are worth.

Florence, who is well into her 60s, is in denial, living a Deb's life despite the fact that she is married to (the almost invisible) David, who at least finances her foibles. Matters come to a head when her latest young beau, Barry Justice playing Tom Veryan, is introduced to her son Nicky and his fiancée Bunty Mainwaring on their return from Paris.

While this trio are all the same age, it is quickly apparent that Tom and Bunty have far more in common than the precious pianist Nicky does with either of them.

The initial reunion between mother and son seems happy enough but at a country house party the following weekend, life changes irrevocably for both. In each case, it is very much for the worse as the incomers, Tom and Bunty pair off leaving the two Lancasters wailing and bereft.

The most impressive character in the play is possibly Helen, played by Jennifer Daniel. This omniscient spinster can spot insincere professions of love in a second and not only identifies the unhappiness of the Lancasters but does her best to cushion cruel but well-deserved blows that neither is mentally strong enough to bear.

While The Vortex is far from being one of the Noël Coward's best plays, it does manage to combine one of his specialities, acute observation of the idle rich at play, with a clear-sighted critique of the unhappiness that can be caused within families when delusion is taken too far.

Margaret Leighton is particularly good as Florence both in flighty mode and later on when she must finally face up to reality in the final scene, as she battles with Nicky. Richard Warwick also excels at the death as his character breaks through his mother's defences for the first time in his 24 years.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher