Sandy Pritchard-Gordon

Sandy Pritchard-Gordon
Theatre Blog

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Privates on Parade at The Noel Coward Theatre

I was very excited at the prospect of seeing the first production of new company, MGC, set up by one of my heroes and starring an actor I rate highly, despite the fact that the play itself didn't particularly inspire me.  As it turns out my expectations were mostly fulfilled and I'm still not convinced about Privates on Parade.  In fact without the excellent direction of Michael Grandage, wondrous performance of Simon Russell Beale and very good characterisation by Angus Wright, I would have left The Noel Coward Theatre rather underwhelmed.  Not disappointed exactly, just underwhelmed.  I always thought it a strange choice before realising that Mr. Grandage directed it during his early years as Artistic Director at The Donmar.  A trip down memory lane!

Peter Nichol's 1977 farce centres around a British military concert party stationed in the Far East following the War.  He was obviously inspired to write it following his experiences in Combined Services Entertainment in late 1940's Malaya although I'm sure the men he worked with couldn't all have been like these stereotypical homosexuals. Simon Russell-Beale, relishing the chance to portray such female icons as Marlene Dietrich, Carmen Miranda and Vera Lynn, etc. makes a magnificent Terri Dennis, the leader of the concert party.  His enjoyment and enthusiasm shines forth and I deny anyone not to be enraptured by his various portrayals.  But it is when he undrags into Noel Coward that he is at his funniest and as the outrageously camp Terri that he manages to convey his inner sadness when talking about the death of his sailor lover at sea.  Mr. R-B can turn from subtle to over the top bawdiness in the wink of an eye. It would be difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.  

The other excellent comic turn is Angus Wright as Major Flack, the stiff, upper lipped officer who fails to see the glaringly obvious, plus I'm sure all the red blooded ladies in the theatre also enjoyed "the privates on parade" during the shower scene.  This provides the most realistic interaction between the concert party members which otherwise does tend to be slightly forced.

As is to be expected, Christopher Oram strikes exactly the right note with with his crumbling colonial set, whilst Grandage effortlessly directs both the physical and verbal comedy. It's just the play that's slightly off key.  It's bawdy references and double entendres were probably shocking when it was first produced but are less so now and the supposed satirical references to British imperialism and racism appear dated. Still it's worth the price of a seat to see Simon R-B dressed up in all his wondrous guises, especially as 100,000 tickets for MGC's season of five plays will sell for £10.

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