Relative Values

ROSY WISEMAN on the ADC’s fresher show: “a two-dimensional, one-note, and self-absorbed production”.

ADC Freshers Noel Coward rosy wiseman

ADC, 16-20th November, £6-10, 7.45pm

Directed by Harry Michell & Jessie Anand


I don’t know if it was the emergency administration of coffee and chocolate during the interval or the consistent shrillness the directors seemed to have mistaken for whimsy, but the ADC’s production of Noel Coward’s Relative Values left me with an insipid feeling of nausea. The directors, graciously aware of the difficulty of attempting to recapture the contemporary cache a play may have once possessed, seem to have given up at that momentous point of realisation any ambition of assembling anything other than a two-dimensional, one-note, and self-absorbed production. The ability of many of the leading actors teased, but could never compete with such an aggressive lack of imagination.

Garishly trussed up and hopelessly static, the set had the terrifyingly acidic Technicolor quality of a compulsory educational Spanish sitcom. Characters entered, sat, and spoke. Always in that order, and almost always in the same positions. It was delightful, in the second half of the production, to find James Evans’ Peter reclining on a sofa which I had been conditioned to envision (by a merry-go-round of earnest, dull, speeches) as an upholstered electric chair.

I never felt I had before me a cast of real, live and twitching actors, but a lazy cartoon, or as my culture-vulture companion put it, an episode of the Royle Family. Characters were sketched out lazily. Will Chappell’s inscrutable locust-legs were no replacement for actual acting, and Charotte Hamblin’s portrayal of the American starlet ticked all the boxes of stereotyping, including mechanical and dull.

Perhaps it was the Sisyphean task of remembering her ridiculously wordy, eminently cuttable, lines, but Claudia Blunt’s Felicity interacted with neither cast or audience. Had it not been for the grating connotations of a teleprompted politician, her performance may have been overwhelmingly endearing. Instead, although consistently admirable, it was levelled by the hulking irrelevance of large sections of the script. Tellingly, her pièce de résistance was a stretch of thoroughly enjoyable fluffing.

Why waste such talent on a deluge of vacuous jokes of the Mind Your Language school of humour? What’s more, Stephen Bermingham’s meerkattish philosopher-butler and James Evans’ slick and comfortable Peter proved that it was indeed quite possible to save a play from the weaknesses of the script, and that Coward’s stereotypes do not have to be pointlessly patronising. I guess it wasn’t the coffee or the set that made the production on the whole a straining experience, but the constant reminders that its arduous irrelevance was never at all a necessary evil.