Theatre | Serving up Coward | Ken Longworth

IN THE HOUSE: Cast members from Noel Coward's Relative Values, which is being staged by Newcastle Theatre Company.
IN THE HOUSE: Cast members from Noel Coward's Relative Values, which is being staged by Newcastle Theatre Company.

ENGLISH entertainer Noel Coward showed he hadn’t lost his engaging sense of humour when he returned to playwriting in 1951 after a decade of performing comedy and music shows for troops fighting in World War II and post-war audiences who needed to relax after experiencing bombing raids and food rationing.

His comedy, Relative Values, ran for 14 months when it premiered in London, with watchers enjoying how Coward showed the way class relationships were changing by making the servants in the homes of titled people key characters. And a young earl horrifies his countess mother and her friends by becoming engaged to a seductive Hollywood starlet.   

Newcastle director Fran Hodgson, who is staging Relative Values for a season at Newcastle Theatre Company’s Lambton venue from Saturday, has retained the 1950s setting. She said it should have audiences going away happy. “Coward makes good use of amusing word plays, and the relationships between the characters build and build and then go bang,” she notes.

The cast likewise are having fun with their roles. Leanne Guihot, who plays Felicity, the Countess of Marshwood, said her character was very manipulative. “She wants to get her son in the right place, and her comments are laced with sarcasm, showing her iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove nature.”

Alison Cox is Dora Moxton, known as Moxie, Felicity’s maid. Moxie delivers one of the key surprises in the story, with her information leading to those around her trying to make changes to her role in the Marshwood family home. Alison Cox says that Moxie is a contrast to the titled people around her, being very straightforward.

The variety in the play’s female characters is further shown by Belinda Hodgson’s Miranda Frayle, the actress Chris McCord’s earl, Nigel Marshwood, brings to meet his mother and family members and friends. Hodgson notes that she is “incredibly over the top” in making what she thinks are down-to-earth comments.

The other people living in Marshwood House are butler Crestwell (Brian Wark), who more than matches Felicity in manipulation, and maid Alice (Natasha Steggles). Various friends and relations who come to the house for meals are played by Kathleen Warren, John Dickeson and Noel Grivas. And Don Lucas (Lee Mayne), another Hollywood actor and Miranda’s former boyfriend, makes an unexpected visit.

Relative Values opens on Saturday at 8pm, with a 2pm matinee on Sunday. It then plays Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, until November 25, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 18. Tickets: $31, concession $25, students at Wednesday shows $18. Bookings: 4952 4958.