13 May 2023
THE VORTEX (Festival Theatre, Chichester) Review

Although Noël Coward’s plays remain the staple of London theatre, “The Vortex” hardly ever gets staged, so it was great to have a chance to see it.  This production had an added appeal of the main mother/sun duo played by Lia Williams and Joshua James, who is her real-life son.

The story is classic Coward:  Florence, who’s getting up there in age but feels as young as ever, turns up at a party with her lover Tom, who could easily be her son age-wise.  Joining the party is also Florence’s actual son, Nicky, his fiancee (who, it turns out, knows Tom), and a whole bunch of cheeky quick-wit characters.  Drama and hilarity ensues.

The play, written just shy of a century ago, seems to have aged well when it comes to troubled relationships between parents and children, society frowning on older women dating younger men, and the epic parties of the rich and famous.  Nicky’s cocaine habit, however, isn’t really shocking at this point.  Apparently great literary minds have suggested that the drug use in this play is a proxy for homosexuality, but that’s not longer shocking either.  Jame’s Nicky comes off as more lost and absentminded than gay.

Under Daniel Raggett’s direction, the play more or less lets all the individual to-ings, fro-ings, intrigues, and partner swaps fall by the wayside, as they set the scene for the big reckoning between Florence and Nicky.  Lia Williams is tremendously engaging: funny, loud, and brash, she never lets her Florence become comical.  James playing piano on stage is a real treat.  The ultimate showdown, however, feels almost subdued.  There are lots of words and emotions, but, in the end, they just agree that they’re both similarly broken, which is just a tad unsatisfying.

All the same, the cast is excellent,, the set is beautiful, so an enjoyable outing on balance.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £2.

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