Review: Sincerely Noël, Riverside Studios

“The most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse”

Sincerely Noël is a show both devised by and starring Alistair McGowan showcasing a wide range of Noël Coward’s works, both spoken and sung, with assistance from Charlotte Page. It is an extended version of the Cocktails with Coward show that McGowan and Page took to Edinburgh last year and which played a short run here at the Riverside Studios at Easter. Mixing together songs, bon mots a scene from one of his best-known plays and verse poems, some well known, some obscurities and even some which they believe are being performed publicly for the first time.

After a slightly self-indulgent introduction featuring several of the impersonations for which McGowan is well known, we move swiftly into the flow of the evening with the pair splitting lines of dialogue and songs between them as well as each working solo. Ably accompanied by George Dyer on the piano, they whirl through these insights into the lives of both everyday people and the upper classes with many tales of the endless capacity of love to confuse, wound, amuse and capture hearts and minds alike.

What comes across is the breadth of his writing but also how timeless much of it is. One often thinks of Coward as being so firmly rooted in his own time but the marital fears of Honeymoon 1905 could have been written today, listening to 1901, the account of the death and funeral of Queen Victoria, one is struck by the comparison to Princess Diana’s death and the epic poem Not Yet The Dodo with its well-to-do parents struggling to accept their beloved son’s homosexuality shows that no matter how far we think we’ve come as a society, there is always more progress to be made.

Page really comes into her own in the second act, with beautiful deliveries of songs like Mad About The Boy and If Love Were All but also showcases a wide range of accents (wider than McGowan even) amusing particularly whilst on the therapist’s couch. McGowan also impresses at wielding the sharp witticisms and playing the repressed Englishness of so many of these characters. And together they suggest the world of pain, hurt and emotion behind the infamous stiff upper lip.

Sincerely Noël makes for an enjoyable, if a little slight, experience. In showcasing Coward as one of our finest writers though, it does an excellent job, revisiting old favourites with both a new eye, like a witty Teutonic take on Mad Dogs and Englishmen which breathes a wonderful new life into the well-known classic and the familiar, like the beautifully played balcony scene from Private Lives.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £1
Booking until 23rd December
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

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