Star Quality - Noel Coward - Penelope Keith - Christopher Luscombe

On 3 December 2001, I saw Noel Coward's play Star Quality, which was directed by Christopher Luscombe, designed by Tim Goodchild, and produced by Bill Kenwright. A wickedly funny play (a play within a play).

Coward takes us behind the scenes of a 1951 set in a new West End production called Dark Heritage (the title of the play within the play Star Quality), conjuring up an authentic backstage world of talent and treachery. Coward creates a gallery of unforgettable characters: the temperamental, manipulative leading lady, the ruthless director, a jaded old trouper, and, caught somewhere between them all, an innocent young playwright. The action goes from tentative first rehearsals to the triumphant opening night. The crash of egos becomes increasingly and hilariously violent. The young playwright says, "We're putting on a play, not fighting a war", as he sees Penelope Keith hurl Russell Boulter across the dressing room! But what emerges from the mayhem is a startling evocation of that most elusive gift of all... . . star quality! !

Penelope Keith plays Lorraine Barrie (Eleanor in Dark Heritage). Russell Boulter play the role of Ray Malcolm (the Director of Dark Heritage). Una Stubbs plays Marion Blake (Stella, the twittering actress who bungles her way through the role, in Dark Heritage). Nick Fletcher plays the role of Bryan Snow (the star-struck author of Dark Heritage).

The play is set in London, Kent and Manchester in the early 1950's, which Tim Goodchild did a magnificent job replicating. It is a story about the power struggle between the author of Dark Heritage and its star.

Penelope Keith plays a theatrical grande dame (Lorraine Barrie) in slacks with a little dog tucked under her arm. This role is probably a struggle for her as it is beyond her normal comic range. The role of Lorraine is said to have been modelled after Coward's great friend and colleague Gertie Lawrence. Penelope Keith is known to millions as Audrey Forbes-Hamilton from the TV sitcom To the Manor Born. She is also well known as Margot (the posh version of Margaret) in The Good Life, which is how I am familiar with her. I always watch repeats of this program.

Russell Boulter is abrasive as the Director of Dark Heritage - a leather-jacketed homosexual. Russell was Detective-Sergeant John Boulter in the long-running TV series The Bill.

Una Stubbs is a small part player in Star Quality, but is best known for her role as the long-suffering daughter from the TV sitcom Till Death Do Us Part.

Star Quality gave a quite serious portrayal of the hard work and business dealings that surround putting on a play: castings, read-through at first rehearsal, re-writes, technical dress rehearsal and opening night.


Verinha Ottoni.


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