Suite In Three Keys

Noël Coward
Orange Tree Theatre
Orange Tree Theatre

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Tara Fitzgerald, Emma Fielding and Stephen Boxer in A Song at Twilight Credit: Steve Gregson
Steffan Rizzie and Tara Fitzgerald in A Song at Twilight Credit: Steve Gregson
Stephen Boxer and Emma Fielding in A Song at Twilight Credit: Steve Gregson
Emma Fielding, Tara Fitzgerald and Stephen Boxer in Shadows of the Evening Credit: Steve Gregson
Emma Fielding in Come into the Garden, Maud Credit: Steve Gregson
Steffan Rizzi as Felix Credit: Steve Gregson
Stephen Boxer and Emma Fielding in Shadows of the Evening Credit: Steve Gregson
Stephen Boxer and Emma Fielding in Come into the Garden, Maud Credit: Steve Gregson
Tara Fitzgerald and Stephen Boxer in Come into the Garden, Maud Credit: Steve Gregson

In Suite in Three Keys, Noël Coward wrote three plays all set in the same private suite in a luxury hotel in Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva in the 1960s. The Orange Tree here presents them in repertoire, as intended sharing the same cast. A Song at Twilight is full-length and plays separately; Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden Maud form a double bill.

In Shadows of the Evening, seven years after publisher George Hilgay left his wife Αnne for new love Linda, his mistress calls his wife insisting she visit. George (Stephen Boxer) has melanoma, it is terminal and she wants the situation between them sorted out. Anne (Emma Fielding) has caught the first plane from London; Linda (Tara Fitzgerald) has sent a chauffeur to meet her.

“We are going to be friends,” insists Linda, and they once were, after meeting as wartime drivers for the army in Egypt. Now they must halt a descent into bitchy exchanges and find an excuse for Anne’s visit, since Linda believes the doctor has not told George of his prognosis.

But George does know and is handling things well. While an overwrought Linda is out of the room, he wants to know if Anne really loved him. In a second scene, as they prepare to go off to the casino, we learn what George has decided.

It is a play full of talk rather than action that presents personalities with different reactions to our inevitable mortality.

Come Into the Garden, Maud is more cheerful. Anna-Mary Conklin (Emma Fielding) is the domineering American wife of wealthy businessman Verner (Stephen Boxer). She is voracious for Europe’s culture, he’d rather be back home playing golf. She moans that all the time they’ve been in Europe, they’ve only been in three churches, but Coward is caricaturing the American with money and no breeding. Her rage at the salon that has left her hair purple gets laughs rather sympathy.

An unexpected visit by an English-born Italian princess (Tara Fitzgerald) whom they met briefly in Rome is an annoying interruption; she is getting ready for a carefully planned dinner party. Verner had found Princess Maud charming, she didn’t. However, when a guest phones to say they are too unwell to make dinner, a furious Anna-Mary invites the princess so that there won’t be thirteen at table. When she insists she can’t—she has to drive south to Rome that night—domineering Anna-Mary then decides Verner must eat on his own in the apartment; she will say he is unwell.

While Anna-Mary goes to get ready, the princess says goodbye to Verner with feeling, and in a second scene later that evening, she returns while Anna-Mary is still with her guests and the status quo dramatically changes. When his wife goes off to her room telling him to leave her alone, he follows her orders precisely.

A Song at Twilight presents another trio made up of famous writer Hugo Latymer (Stephen Boxer), his German wife Hilde (Emma Fielding), who had long been his translator and amanuensis, and actress Carlotta (Tara Fitzgerald), with whom he once had a two-year-long affair. Why should Carlotta, who now lives in the States, want to see him after a gap of more than twenty years?

She has written her memoirs and wants to include some of his love letters to her. She needs his permission, but he won’t give it. But is that really what she has come for? It turns out she has other letters he wrote: letters he wrote to a male lover.

This is a play that digs considerably deeper than its two shorter partners, and its characters have more depth too, but it is worth seeing all three for the opportunity to see each of his trio of actors create three very different characters.

There is Stephen Boxer’s Hugo, so concerned about reputation, his Verner, who at first seems so bored and boring, exiting waving his passport on the way to a new life, and well-adjusted George, who can handle both wife and mistress and face fate philosophically.

Tara Fitzgerald is all twitchy neurosis as Linda, displays captivating charm as Princess Maud (with just a hint that she might be after the money) and can be caustically funny as thrice-married Carlotta and at the same time awake Hugo’s conscience.

Emma Fielding is way over the top as Anna-Mary, just the way Coward has written her, a terrific contrast to her Anne Hilgay, and seems to embody the caring heart and ordered mind of someone who has lived through pain as Hilde, with a subtle suggestion that her life too has its secrets.

Steffan Rizzi, as Felix the waiter, enlivens all three plays, especially a lively exchange with the princess, and in the intervals and between shows too when, with a guitar and a pleasant voice, he sings a succession of songs in Italian.

It is the 1960s, so designer Louie Whitemore doesn’t lay on 21st century luxury, it is a traditional, more restrained suite, Felix with his trolley, ice buckets and napkins creates the right feel and there is interesting detail. There is what looks like a Jonathan Cape proof copy of a 1960s Fleming and a paperback of an earlier Bond novel in Shadows, period guidebooks for Come Into the Garden and costumes that feel right. Oh and some striking wigs, let’s not forget them!

Tom Littler’s production, especially when seen on the same day, can’t hide their lack of action and there are times when you could wish them more compact, but as things become confrontational, they come alight, but they burn with a different flame from his earlier, better known, cynical comedies.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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