"Coward's stylish drawing-room comedy sparkles anew"
-The Daily Telegraph-

"Stylishly presented"
-The Guardian-

"Good value"
-Evening Standard-

Sorry, Relative Values closed on 21 Jun 2014

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Brilliantly executed and faithful production.

Critic Rating

16 April 2014, Harold Pinter Theatre
Guest Reviewer Guest Reviewer
For a play with a title that sounds like a low cost option at a supermarket, Relative Values is very much the opposite; it is the 'Taste the Difference', dare I say, the 'Marks & Spencer' of comedy. Directed by Trevor Nunn and starring a veteran comedy cast of Patricia Hodge, Caroline Quentin, Steven Pacey and Rory Bremner in his West End debut, this revival of the classic Noël Coward comedy is sure to do exactly what it says on the tin.

Performed at the Theatre Royal Bath in June last year, it makes its West End transfer to the Harold Pinter Theatre, finishing its run on 21st June. Patricia Hodge plays Felicity, Countess of Marshwood, the widowed owner of Marshwood House in East Kent. Her son, Nigel (Sam Hoare), is to marry the movie star, Miranda Frayle (Leigh Zimmerman), and they are to live with Felicity at Marshwood House. However, Moxie the maid (Caroline Quentin), has her reservations for reasons that become apparent as the play unfolds. Class barriers are broken, many a yarn is spun, and hilarity ensues.

The play opens with a montage of life during 1951, projected onto a screen that drops down centre stage, with an RP accented voiceover, replicating the style of Pathé News segments: an instant modern and effective way of placing the audience in the time period. When the screen lifted, I was instantly wowed by the ornate, naturalistic set design by Stephen Brimson Lewis. A high ceiling with an elaborate chandelier and bookcase filled with leather bound books serves as a stunning backdrop and establishes the wealth of the characters, using lighting that enters from the stage right windows to determine the time of day. This is at no point distracting, but complements the affluent nature of the play.

The production succeeds in letting the text do the work: the play is really funny, with brilliant one-liners, situational comedy and visual gags, and the cast and crew has left it room to breath. Ideally, that is what you would want from a comedy like this. Extra credit must go to Steven Pacey as Peter and, in particular, Patricia Hodge as Felicity who is wonderfully manipulative and endearing in her enjoyment of these awkward situations. The moments when the two actors were alone were amongst my favourites in the performance.

A couple of minor gripes: Rory Bremner as Crestwell the butler had accent changes depending on who he was addressing, which were at times a tad too much, but were witty when done well; the voiceover on the projected sections could have been integrated into the video better, overpowering the rest of the audio. However, my biggest problem with the play is pacing: it took a little while
to get going, which wasn't helped by some of the supporting actors being too polite and letting everyone finish their line, and after reaching a peak before and just after the interval, the energy dropped slightly, making the second half drag a smidge. I'm going to blame Noël for that one though.

If you are a fan of classic comedy, and all loose ends tied up neatly, then this is certainly worth your wealth. If you are looking for an exciting, original, firework of a production, then this probably is not for you. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if it is your Earl Grey, then you are sure to chortle your way through this brilliantly executed and faithful production.

by Charlie Ward

Where I sat:
K5, Stalls: Great view; I did wonder if people further back would struggle hearing.

Recommended for:
Fans of classic comedy, witty humour, one-liners, elaborate sets, comfort theatre and posh accents.

Charles Spencer
Nunn can sometimes be a ponderous director but his production of this comedy in which Coward seems blessed with the spirit of PG Wodehouse has exactly the right lightness of touch. As the Countess, Patricia Hodge gives a masterclass in high comic style, but also reveals sudden moments of emotional depth that are all the more poignant for being so fleetingly suggested. Caroline Quentin gives a wonderful comic performance as the lady’s maid, listening with mounting indignation to her sister’s lies about the drunken poverty of her traumatic family life in Brixton (needless to say, the actress fails to recognise her sister). And there is a lovely omniscient turn from Rory Bremner as the Jeevesian butler, who memorably describes a twist in the plot as “a coincidence in the best tradition of English high comedy”.

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Michael Billington
The play has been done up to the nines by Nunn, who has cannily inserted newsreel material to evoke the period. Patricia Hodge is flawless as the conniving countess, although I'm intrigued by Coward's assumption that an endless capacity for ironic insult is a sign of good breeding. Caroline Quentin lends the moody Moxie a permanent sense of comic disgruntlement, Steven Pacey ingeniously finds a gay subtext in the underwritten character of the countess's nephew, and Leigh Zimmerman invests the invasive movie star with a grace and dignity that makes you feel she's the one who'd be marrying beneath her. Rory Bremner even manages to reconcile one to the butler by suggesting his air of omniscient superiority is carefully manufactured. But, while there's much pleasure to be had from the stylish acting and direction, Coward's play remains a musty, tribal relic in praise of the class system.

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Fiona Mountford
It’s impossible not to be amused by Hodge’s silkily imperious tone as she tries to ensure the upper classes remain unsullied by such an arriviste. Quentin excels in a silent comedy of manners and embarrassment and Bremner has fun with an accent that slides up and down the social scale in the course of a single sentence. So, relatively enjoyable.

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