Standing up for Coward [Bellamy’s Restaurant 9-14 February 2009]

Written by: Michael Darvell

A preview by Michael Darvell of John Standing’s evening of Noël Coward in story and song…

Noël Coward seems never to have been out of favour, at least not the past forty years or so. Having been slightly unfashionable during the late 1950s and early 1960s when the well-made play gave way to kitchen-sink-drama, he has been since the mid-1960s, in one way or another, ever present in recorded form and in the theatre. His heyday may have been from the 1920s to the 1940s when he wrote his best songs and his most celebrated plays (“The Vortex”, “Hay Fever”, “Easy Virtue”, “Cavalcade”, “Private Lives”, “Design for Living”, “Tonight at 8.30”, “Present laughter” and “Blithe Spirit”) but since many of them have been revived so often in recent years, it’s as if he has never been away.

Coward died in 1973, leaving a legacy of great songs, music, lyrics, plays, films, books, short stories, poetry, revues, diaries, other writings and even paintings, not to mention his own performances, not least in films and as recordings – and it is hard to think of anyone in British entertainment history with as much talent as ‘The Master’.

The Times newspaper, in demonstrating Coward’s versatility, said that there may have been greater painters, novelists, librettists, composers, singers, dancers, comedians, tragedians, producers, directors, cabaret artists and television stars, but never before in one person as they were for Coward. Eventually a London theatre was named after him.

His reputation continues apace via the flourishing Noel Coward Society, documenting and supporting the multifarious Coward events that still take place worldwide. Last year alone we saw a new stage version of “Brief Encounter” in a London West End cinema. It won a design award from the Critics’ Circle and is nominated for an Olivier Award. A new film version of “Easy Virtue” was made at Ealing Studios (Alfred Hitchcock made a silent version in 1928). “Private lives” is currently receiving a new production at the Hampstead Theatre, running until the end of February 2009, and André Previn has written an opera of “Brief Encounter”, which receives its world premiere by Houston Opera in May 2009.

Coward’s collection of comic- and love-songs – he wrote over three-hundred – has been the staple diet of many a cabaret performer such as Steve Ross, Simon Green and the late Bobby Short and Peter Greenwell. This month (February 2009) sees the premiere of a new Coward compilation by actor John Standing at Bellamy’s restaurant in London’s Mayfair, accompanied by pianist Stuart Barr, before he takes the show to the Café Carlyle in New York. Sir John comes from an eminent acting dynasty that includes his great grandfather Herbert Standing, his grandfather Sir Guy Standing, his grandmother actress Dorothy Hammond, and his mother Kay Hammond who is perhaps best remembered for her role as Elvira in Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”.

Sir John knew Coward. Obviously with his mother’s connection with him, ‘The Master’ was a great friend of the Standing family, leaving Sir John a fund of stories and anecdotes about Noël and the many celebrities he worked with in his long and illustrious career. Standing’s programme at Bellamy’s restaurant will comprise some of these stories interspersed with a selection of Coward’s most famous songs, including ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’, ‘I’ve been to a marvellous party’, ‘The stately homes of England’, ‘A talent to amuse’. It will be interesting to hear tales from Coward’s life given the authentic touch of someone who actually knew him. So often are such stories a retelling of what may be apocryphal anyway. Most of us have a fund of Coward stories but Sir John should be able to outwit us all.

Sir John succeeded his father Sir Ronald Leon as the fourth baronet in 1964. Although his father was a stockbroker, it was perhaps inevitable that John should become an actor, just like his grandfather and grandmother, his mother and his stepfather, Sir John Clements. He is married to Sarah Forbes, daughter of actor-writer-director Bryan Forbes and actress Nanette Newman. He has worked extensively on London and New York stages in such plays as Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of being Earnest”, Jean Anouilh’s “Ring Around the Moon”, John Osborne’s “A Sense of Detachment” and, naturally enough, Coward’s “Private Lives”, with Maggie Smith. His film appearances, usually playing aristocratic or military types, include “King Rat”, “Walk, Don’t Run” (with Cary Grant), “The Eagle has Landed”, “The Elephant Man”, “The Sea Wolves”, “Chaplin”, “Mrs Dalloway” and “A Good Woman” (an adaptation of Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”). His television work has taken in “The Saint”, “The Avengers” and “Danger Man”, “The First Churchills”, “Van der Valk”, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, “LA Law”, “Murder, she wrote” and “Midsomer Murders”.

  • Sir John Standing appears at Bellamy’s restaurant, the French brasserie at 18 Bruton Place, London W1J 6LY, from Monday 9 February to Saturday 14 February 2009
  • Doors open at 7.30 p.m. with the show at 10.30 p.m.
  • Tickets are £75.00 including a three-course dinner
  • Bookings on 020 7491 2727

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