Review of A Song At Twilight, by Noel Coward at Cambridge Arts Theatre.
Celebrated author Sir Hugo Latymer has been seeing out his twilight years in a lakeside hotel with his long-suffering German wife, Hilde, when he hears one of his old flames plans to visit.
As the play begins, Hugo is nervous about the arrival of former lover Carlotta Gray, whom he fears is furious after his recent biography described her as a ‘mediocre actress’.
Lashing out at Hilde, comparing her face to a ‘camel’, it’s clear they are no longer close, and she announces she is going out with a friend that evening so he will have to face Carlotta alone.
But when Carlotta arrives she has a much more worrying subject to discuss - she is writing her own autobiography and wants to publish Hugo’s love letters to her from their two year relationship more than 40 years ago. And if he doesn’t agree to her terms she will reveal secrets about his sexual past he has spent his life covering up.
Noel Coward’s final play, A Song At Twilight is one of three collectively entitled Suite in Three Keys, all of which are set in the same suite in a luxury hotel in Switzerland.
Thought to have been inspired in part by the life of writer Somerset Maugham, it was first produced in 1966 when homosexuality was still a crime in Britain.
This revival, with Simon Callow as Hugo, Jessica Turner , as Hilde, Jane Asher as Carlotta and Ash Rizi as the waiter, is a delicious night of fast paced, waspish retorts from an excellent cast leading to a devastatingly sad finale.
The set, designed by Simon Higlett, was exquisite - transporting the audience to the plush Swiss hotel in a high-ceilinged room overlooking a moonlit lake. It was a pleasure to have a great set for a period piece such as this play, fixing the action in the era it was written. This was especially important as the concerns of the play, a man being forced to live a more truthful life after spending many years closeted, may seem remote to younger members of the audience.
Simon Callow played a haughty and bad tempered Hugo, capturing the man’s huge ego whilst also displaying a general unhappiness with life. Callow was at his best firing one insult after another at his ‘vulgar’ ex, Carlotta.
The more infuritated he became with Jane Asher’s Carlotta as she taunted him with his failures in their relationship, the calmer she seemed to be, reclining on the sofa in her sparkling black dress. But then she would spring up, a whirlwind of energy, contrasting her vivaciousness with his poor health and complaints that he was an ‘old man’.
Jessica Turner, who played Hilde and kept up a convincing German accent, returned from her night out in the second half of the play and cut through the arguments of the former lovers with her own revelations. She brilliantly portrayed the sadness about her own tragedies that had been kept in check by her uptight manner. On her return to the hotel after a night of drinking with a friend she has loosened up and we see the full emotional impact of the choices she has made. She received some of the evening’s biggest laughs for her portrayal of Hilde as a little worse for wear.
All the performances were excellent and I expect many will want to take the opportunity to see a great actor like Simon Callow on stage, but for me Jessica Turner stole the show.
A very enjoyable evening. 4 stars.
A Song At Twilight is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 9. Box office cambridgeartstheatre.com or call 01223 503333. Tickets from £25.