Relative Values is one of Noël Coward’s lesser-known plays, but as a fan of the playwright I was determined to see it. I popped down to Richmond Theatre one Monday (I’ve been spending a lot of time there recently) and saw the touring production.
Set in the early 1950s, the play, produced by the Theatre Royal Bath, sees a young Earl returning to his home, Marshwood House, with his future bride Miranda, a Hollywood film star. However, problems arise when it is revealed that she is the sister of Moxie, his mother’s maid. As Moxie is recast in the more socially acceptable role of companion and secretary – with humorous results – a spanner is thrown into the works when Miranda’s former lover turns up to try and win her back.
Caroline Quentin is superb as Moxie and Rory Bremner amuses as the butler, but it is Patricia Hodge who really shines as Felicity, matriarch of the household, who takes matters into her own hands when the dynamic of Marshwood House is threatened. The play satirises class snobbery and the unwillingness of 1950s British society to believe that everyone should be equal. While not quite up to the standard of other Coward plays such as Private Lives and Hay Fever, it is witty, amusing and highly entertaining.