Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Coward

James Martin Charlton
Just Some Theatre Company
White Bear Theatre

Josh Taylor as Leonard Marlowe and Peter Stone as Cole Lesley
Taylor as Leonard Marlowe and Jake Urry as Noël Coward

“No one could describe you as a chicken—you’re pure beef” is Noël Coward’s description of the young man he falls for in this fictional piece of biography.

This story may be an invention but Coward was unquestionably gay and when he was appearing in Nude with a Violin on Broadway reportedly became very enamoured with a young American actor who was not only straight but a Catholic. That relationship was traumatic for both of them and forms the basis for this drama, though it changes date and location to 1930s England.

Charlton’s script captures something of Coward’s biting style and, though it hints at titillation, avoids the lubricious. Though Josh Taylor, as love object Leonard Marlowe, bares his chest, lights fade before any fellatio and any rumpty tumpty, whatever it was, is over before the lights come up.

The game of cat and mouse has more comedy than pathos, though Jake Urry’s Coward suggests a man who always exhibits a façade to hide his real feelings. He delivers the clipped delivery of the Coward cabaret but his assumed upper-class archness has too much languid hauteur to ring entirely true, his bitchiness is just a bit too queeny. Even in intimacy this Coward is still putting on an act.

Josh Taylor is handsomely straightforward as Marlowe; fear of offending seems his top priority. He’s been in show business a couple of years already, he obviously knows the score and the script doesn’t give him much opportunity to suggest the conflict in a troubled Catholic boy devoted to his girlfriend. Such relationships are usually emotionally complicated affairs and Charlton could have gone deeper into this one.

Cole Lesley, Coward’s valet, secretary and general factotum, is here presented as a devoted and complaisant underdog, prepared to sacrifice his own life for his master. Peter Stone makes him a perfect manservant but also suggests someone with real heart in an accomplished performance. His character is so positively established that rearranging the furniture and props to change the scene is accomplished as though it was a natural part of his duties. But, behind his calm demeanour, Stone suggests a man of feeling.

This picture of Coward is short on charm but still self-centredly entertaining and that makes an entertaining evening, though it has no happy ending.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton