Suite in Three Keys ★★★★★ Orange Tree Theatre | May 24 - Jul 6, 2024

The trilogy that was Noël Coward's last theatrical work enjoys a well-deserved revival in this impressive production directed by Tom Littler. Three stories, set in the same suite in a luxury hotel in Switzerland, explore some complex and problematic relationships with the wit and insight that is the hallmark of Coward's oeuvre. All three stories explore tense interpersonal entanglements and how pretence and hypocrisy play out in social situations. In each case, the shams are exposed and the truth comes out, but things are never quite as simple as that. In Shadows of the Evening a man's wife and his current mistress conspire to keep the news of his impending death from him, but the piece becomes a thoughtful meditation on how much reality any of us can live with when faced with the inevitability of mortality. In Come into the Garden, Maud, perhaps the weakest of the three, a social-climbing wife seeks to disguise her husband's perceived commonness from her newly cultivated aristocratic friends, while he finds unexpected love and possibly a more authentic life. In the longer, two-act work, A Song at Twilight, an aging writer is confronted with the secret of his sexuality which he has been trying to hide all his life. The revelation that his subterfuges have only led to the impoverishment of all his relationships is ultimately crushingly exposed. All three pieces are replete with Coward's sparkling repartee, and while it is sometimes a little disconcerting to have nine characters with such similar speech rhythms and linguistic prowess, Stephen Boxer, Emma Fielding and Tara Fitzgerald do a fine job of individuating the characters. All three actors rise to the occasion of delivering the master's polished, polysyllabic dialogue while creating the articulate, self-aware individuals who inhabit Coward's world. The three plays are offered in two performances, and certainly stand on their own, but our advice would be to make a day of it. Seize the opportunity to binge on Coward's brilliant writing in what is a first-class production!

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Steve Gregson

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