A May-December fling that never sizzles

Alex Spinney and Jane Seymour star in Noel Coward's The Vortex.
Alex Spinney and Jane Seymour star in Noel Coward's The Vortex.PHOTO: BRITISH THEATRE PLAYHOUSE

REVIEW / THEATRE

THE VORTEX

British Theatre Playhouse

Jubilee Theatre, Raffles Hotel Last Saturday

To be in love is both a pain and a pleasure, and balancing these impulses is as elusive as British playwright-composer Noel Coward's The Vortex, a breakout play in the London of 1924.

His skewering of the British stiff upper lip was a hit then, thanks to its sordid plot. Long-married Florence Lancaster, a diva of a dowager, takes a lover as young as her estranged son Nicky. Tom Veryan, the 24-year-old lover, craves her wealth and influence, but keeps her on a short leash.

  • BOOK IT / THE VORTEX

  • WHERE: Jubilee Theatre, Raffles Hotel

    WHEN: Till May 14, 8pm on weeknights and Sunday, 4 and 8pm on Saturday, no shows on Monday

    ADMISSION: $115 to $155 excluding booking fee (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Meanwhile, Nicky returns home from Paris drug-addled - and with fiancee Bunty Mainwaring in tow. Florence envies Bunty's youth and brains, while Nicky detests Tom the cad. Thus is the stage set for an almighty clash of wills.

Coward is said to have used Nicky's drug addiction as code for being gay, but while the character lurches between being macho and being fey, director Bob Tomson made little of that.

This play is a devil to inhabit because of its schizophrenic premise. Illicit love is bad, but pursuing true love is good. What, then, of true love that is illicit? Coward, no great wit, answers that unconvincingly.

Former Bond girl Jane Seymour, a vision of ageless beauty and grace, portrayed Florence with much panache. But her natural warmth meant that Coward's barbs pricked but did not sting. She owned the stage in even the most absurd instances, such as when she went from bawling in self-pity to spritzing herself all over with narcissus perfume.

"It sickens me to see you getting back so soon," said her old friend Helen Saville, played by Julie Teal. Teal's bravura turn as the play's most level-headed character was so believable that you wanted to hug her.

John Faulkner, who with his wife Cecilia Leong produced this play, was another scene-stealer as Florence's cuckolded husband David. His performance was deft, nuanced and superbly timed, suffusing his brief entries and exits with much poignancy.

As Nicky, Alex Spinney held his own against Seymour, being generous and invested in the moment. He crooned like a dream too, accompanying himself on the piano on such songs as Someone To Watch Over Me by the Gershwins.

James Cartwright as Tom strutted and fretted about well enough, but he lacked chemistry with everyone else.

The rest of the cast, who included vowel-mangling Arthur Bostrom of 1980s British sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, flapped about with fripperies.

It all made for an evening that never sizzled.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'A May-December fling that never sizzles'. Print Edition | Subscribe