In 2005 Sir Cameron Mackintosh renamed two of his West End theatres after legends of British stage and screen. The Albery became the Noël Coward, in memory of the playwright while the Strand is now the Novello Theatre commemorating the composer Ivor Novello. A fitting tribute indeed.
This slick and smoothly polished show is presented as a true homage to these two golden boys of 20th century light entertainment, highlighting their long personal and professional relationship.
Coward was deeply envious of Novello's effortless glamour. As he commented in his usual sharp and witty manner, “ the two most perfect things are Ivor’s profile and my mind” – hence the title of this show.
The large stage is effectively designed with art deco furniture, chic club armchairs and glass screens. At the piano, dressed in a suave green velvet smoking jacket, is musical director Stuart Barham who introduces the show and the ensemble of singers, the men in white tie and tails as cool and sophisticated as the women in their flowing ivory satin gowns and evening gloves.
Although listed in the Fringe programme under Theatre, this is more musical revue than drama, with interlinking anecdotes to stitch it all together into a colourful cabaret of music, stories, song and dance.
Ivor Novello was born David Ivor Davies in Wales in 1893 into a musical family, and after a private education won a scholarship to Oxford. Noel Coward, born six years later had a less easy start in life, but at an early age showed a strong talent to amuse.
As young men they both were established as versatile actors, writers and composers, with Ivor becoming a celebrated matinee idol in silent films. They were the show business darlings from the 1920s to 1940s, from the West End to Broadway.
While not impersonating them, Adrian Fisher takes on the character of Coward and Darren Bennett portrays Novello, with Margaret Preece and Nova Skipp slipping neatly into various female roles within the biographical narrative.
A medley of songs, such as “Mad about the Boy,” “Her Mother came Too,” the delightful “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” are semi-dramatised with great humour, and “Someday I’ll Find you” illustrates so well Coward’s lyrics of pure romance. The mood switches in between with Novello’s two patriotic ballads, “We’ll gather Lilacs”, and “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, sung here with such passion.
While Coward’s plays are frequently revived, (Volcano is currently on London’s West End), Novello’s operettas, which made him the Lloyd Webber of his time, have not stood the test of time so well. The Ivor Novello Awards for song writing keeps his memory alive, but perhaps his lush melodious musicals are due for a nostalgic revival.
In praise of his darling co-star Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives, Noel admired “her grace, charm and irrepressible glamour.”
And to sum up, this is a light, bright, fun and frothy musical show, performed with classy style, oodles of charm and irrepressible glamour to do Noel and Ivor proud.
Show times: 2 - 27 August, 11.10am
Ticket prices: £ 13.00 (£ 11.00)