Thursday, 7 June 2012

Volcano by Noel Coward: Richmond Theatre

Update: 10/6/2012

This production is on tour around southern England.  Details of performances and the tour can be found at the following website:

Towns include Bath, Brighton, Bromley, Cambridge, Eastbourne, Oxford, Shrewsbury and Windsor.  These local theatres will have their own arrangements for access.  This production can be attended without the need for audio description, as much of the play can be followed with the context and some helpful reading of the programme beforehand if you're with sighted friends.  If on your own, this review ought to give you some idea of what to expect.

*** end of update

Being allowed to sit in a normal chair (without being raised) I have started making theatre visits again. I am booked on audio described performances at the National Theatre in the next few weeks, but started off with a visit to Richmond Theatre in Surrey to see Noel Coward's Volcano.

Richmond Green with Richmond Theatre in the background
Surrey, 6th June 2012

Noel Coward wrote Volcano in 1956 and this play has been ignored because “he was regarded as a crumbling colonial relic outmoded by a post-war Labour government and the rowdy commotions of the Angry Young Men back home”.  The Angry Young Men refers to writers such as John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, John Braine, Edward Bond and Alan Sillitoe among others.  A masterpiece it is not though very enjoyable nonetheless.

The run of the play has just started at Richmond Theatre.  I attended a matinee and as this was my 3rd visit to this theatre I opted for the front row of the stalls since they offer the best sound angles (almost 180 degrees) and one’s legs can be outstretched. 

There are 7 spoken parts: 3 couples and a widow. One of the couples appears to be content and they are witty (the Craigies, Robin played by Robin Sebastian and Grizelda played by Finty Williams). The other couples are not happy and this is apparent in the dialogue.  Jenny Seagrove plays the widow Adela Shelley who owns a banana plantation in British Samoa (why?) and the threat is a smouldering volcano (not a High Wind in Jamaica) – a metaphor for the plot. Unhappy spouses gather at the terrace of the estate house.  The two couples are: Guy Littleton played by Jason Durr and his wife Melissa played (superbly) by Dawn Steele; Keith Danbury played by Tim Daish and his wife Ellen played by Perdita Avery.

I found I could work out the 4 female roles quite easily though the late arrival of Keith confused me.  There are phantom characters who fill in the back story and the dialogue is reasonably slick though a bit rough from time to time.  This is probably due to Coward’s writing. 

After a rather slow start (for a supposedly sexy scene of technical chastity) the plot brightens up with the arrival of the happy couple and gets intriguing with the arrival of Melissa.  The fur flies as two women spar and the rest look on.  The dialogue is of the much parodied type of “Beyond our Ken/Round the Horne” with:  I know; I know you know; I know you know I know type and probably half the audience laughs at this. 

The sound effects of the volcano are convincing though the lightning may have been overdone during the eruption.  Characters are lost and found (echoes of Hugh Paddick and the Binkie Huckaback character).

This was an enjoyable performance. My neighbours in the audience included one who knew a lot about Jenny Seagrove and another who mentioned, loudly, that Judi Dench’s daughter was in the show.  From the cast list I asked my companion if there was a Ms Williams on the list and sure enough Finty Williams fitted the bill.  Not having a television, I fail to recognise some actors unless they do a lot of radio work or I have heard them on the stage before.  

This play is relatively straightforward for a first “viewing” and I had only to ask one question during the performance of the “Who is that character ?” type.


Update your access requirements on a theatre data base. If you are noted as visually impaired there may be some special arrangements which often mean access to reductions, booking assistance, companion concessions and touch tours and/or audio described performances.  I am collecting some details of facilities for the Edinburgh Festivals and will post them from time to time.

Richmond Theatre: