The Finborough Theatre is famed for resurrecting old classics, and most recently it’s breathed new life into Noel Coward’s lesser-known Home Chat, which first premiered in 1927 (I’ve got the facsimile of the original programme to prove it!). Beginning with the most impressive staging of a train crash on a budget I’ve ever seen, director Martin Parr has paid strong attention to detail with musical scene changes (displaying the strong vocal talents of Robert Hazle) and an unexpected special effect at the end of the play that makes even more of an impact considering that it is in such a small space.
Onto the play itself: it all begins with the aforementioned train crash that reveals that good friends Janet and Peter were sharing a sleeping carriage. The result is a gathering of family and friends, not to mention the appearance of Peter’s fiance, determined to believe the worst, and is the cue for a wonderfully awkward set up as characters glare at one another over cups of tea.
Naturally enough, Janet resents her husband’s accusation that she is guilty, and so she leaves him. What follows is both extremely entertaining and rather melancholy, in a way only Coward can be. The play is good, too, at illuminating how destructive and small-minded gossip and judgements can be, something that is still powerfully relevant.
The performances are strong, particularly Zoe Waites as Janet and Tim Chipping as Paul. I also loved Joanna David and Polly Adams as Janet’s mother and mother-in-law. They have strong material to work with: I’ve had occasion in the past to be critical of Coward’s treatment of women in his plays, but here his protagonist, with whom his sympathies clearly lie, is Janet, a fully rounded and deeply complex character.
Home Chat might be a lesser known Coward work, but it’s definitely worth seeing, and I can’t imagine a better production than it’s got here.