The message of this early Noel Coward play still resonates today, says Bill Hagerty
Part of Noel Coward’s genius was that when he was ahead of his time, the time would usually come. Home Chat was first performed in 1927 and closed within weeks. It hasn’t been seen, and barely heard of, since, but 90 years on inventive director Martin Parr and the enterprising Finborough have calculated that its time is now.
Maybe they’re right – a plot that made polite society feel most uncomfortable in the 1920s is certainly no longer unconventional, but its fierce argument for female emancipation in all areas still resonates today.
When author Paul, his mother, his mother-in-law and the dewy-eyed female friend who (unaccountably) worships him discover that his wife, Janet, has been in a train crash, they are all concerned. When they discover also that she was sharing a wagon-lit with a male old friend, they jump to the obvious conclusion like lemmings plunging over a cliff.
The more Janet and chum Peter protest that the double occupancy was innocent, caused by Peter’s chivalrous relinquishing of his own compartment to an needy old lady, the more they are disbelieved. So Janet decides to really shake them up by pretending that, yes, she and Peter had been up to hanky-panky on their way back from France.
So far, so very Coward, with some snappy observations dispensed by Janet and lots of blustering, pomposity and what-will-polite-society-say? wringing of hands by her accusers. Janet is not a flapper or a brainless floosy; she runs rings around her dullard husband and the others and is so smart that she even corrects Peter’s grammar without pausing for breath during a faked love scene designed further to enrage them.
Spiritedly played by Zoe Waites, Janet is occasionally irritating as she finds her voice to demand ‘mental, moral and physical freedom’ while demonstrating that she is a ‘living, passionate, pulsating women’ by also finding a new love. But had her scorn for those prepared to think the worst despite her and Peter’s initial protests been delivered in a boxing ring, she would have won by a knockout.
This is by no means classic Coward. Its running time of two hours is filled only by some unnecessary small talk about tea – talk doesn’t get much smaller – and a trio of Coward songs (Dance Little Lady, Sail Away, If Love Were All) pleasantly crooned by Robert Hazle, who plays two manservants with minimum fuss and maximum panache.
Polly Adams and Joanna David tut-tut convincingly as the mothers and Tim Chipping presents novelist Paul as so dim that one wonders how Janet stood him for the unspecified time their marriage lasted prior to being derailed by a railway accident. And Parr has judiciously trimmed the text to give the piece necessary pace and allow Janet to wave her feminist banner to best effect
Home Chat may be a natter rather than a deep conversation, but it earns its place among the rediscovered Coward works so thoughtfully staged by the Finborough.
Home Chat plays until 24 September. It is now completely sold out for the entire run, with returns only available. For details of the Finborough's Returns Policy, please click here
Due the play's popularity, the theatre will be adding additional matinees on Thursday, 15 September, and Thursday, 22 September at 3.pm. Tickets will be on sale from Friday, 9 September at 6pm
For tickets, call the 24 hour box office on 0844 847 1652 or book online.
September 8, 2016