Suite in Three Keys

The scene is set in the sunny mountains of 1960’s Switzerland, and the audience are serenaded by Felix (Steffan Rizzi) on acoustic guitar as Linda Savignac (Tara Fitzgerald) anxiously awaits the arrival of her dying beloved’s wife. As I simultaneously settle down and gear up for a Nöel Coward marathon, fears of stereotypical brandy-in-one-hand-cigarette-in-the-other characters that laugh at their own frivolity start to creep in. However, it soon becomes clear that what at first appears as a show catering for a ‘certain’ exclusive demographic transforms into something far richer. Though it isn’t without its flaws, Suite in Three Keys is an impressive study of humour and pain.

An impressive study of humour and pain

The trio of plays commences with Shadows of the Evening in which the mistress of George Hilgay (Stephen Boxer) invites his wife Anne (Emma Fielding) to stay having discovered he only has three months to live. Despite a strong start from Fitzgerald and Rizzi, the action becomes progressively static as the play progresses and the second half falls victim to Coward’s tendency towards loving the sound of his own written voice. Director Tom Littler could have done more to prevent the slightly strained dialogue: the lack of beat shifts muddies the characters’ thought progressions resulting in tepid exchanges. Though the presentation of human (particularly British) indecision and panic in the face of tragedy is realistic, I could do without the long stretches of disjointed philosophical preaching from the characters. Despite this, Boxer is a sturdy presence on stage with heaps of charisma, even in his characters’ less savoury moments. Nonetheless, why this publisher who loves the sound of his own voice has two women fighting over him is beyond me.

Next in the double bill, Come into the Garden, Maud is the overall strongest of the three both narratively and dramaturgically. The plot follows an American couple Anna-Mary (Fielding) and Verner Conklin (Boxer) who receive a visit from Sicilian princess Maud Caragnani (Fitzgerald) in the midst of planning a dinner party. Spoiler: Verner elopes with Maud. Fielding’s Anna-Mary Conklin has a shaky start with an unconvincing American accent and a persona that resembles the cliché farcical ‘diva’ stereotype. In spite of this, she warms into the role and her vibrant energy is missed when she is not present on stage. Boxer's subdued Verner Conklin makes a wonderful counterpoint to the whirlwind that is Anna-Mary and makes for some brilliant sumptuously dry comedic moments. Fitzgerald’s Maud Caragnani, on the other hand, is the mirror image of that cool girl in school who you want to punch in the face but seems to have everyone else under her spell. It works brilliantly in its eerie accuracy, and you can’t take your eyes off her. Her costume and shabby hair, however, is distracting and feels distinctly non-period. Rizzi’s moments as Felix in this play are a delightful refreshment to the other comparatively self-centred characters. In fact, it is a shame that Littler does not make more of his role as the only constant throughout the three plays. Felix’s charming warmth manages to briefly pierce the bubble of high society and more could have been done to play with this dynamic. Overall, however, the storytelling is undeniably strong and the dialogue is far more dynamic than its predecessor, and the audience delight in its hilarity.

A Song at Twilight is the final and longest play of the trilogy, depicting husband and wife Hugo (Boxer) and the German-born Hilde Latymer (Fielding) and Hugo’s reuniting with his past lover, Carlotta Gray (Fitzgerald). Carlotta reveals her possession of intimate letters between Hugo and a man from his past with whom he had an intimate relationship which, given the political climate of the 1960s, makes this the meatiest of the three dramas. Indeed, disregarding some lengthy exchanges in the first half, ‘A Song at Twilight’ strikes a chord with the audience, touching on intimate feelings of betrayal, secrecy and shame—often unexpected with a Nöel Coward play. It is clear that the characterisations, as with the other pieces, have been sharply investigated by the cast, making the dialogue flow and flourish. Fielding’s Hilde, though a much smaller role, provides an incredibly dignified presence and an admirable, though melancholic voice of reason. I can ignore the slightly dodgy German accent because her character is so endearing, especially as she shines in the role. Boxer is the perfect Hugo Latymer: jaded but with a veiled vulnerability. His work is a masterclass in naturalism and the perfect example to actors that doing ‘less’ truly is doing ‘more’.

Overall, Suite in Three Keys is an admirable feat of theatrical endurance. For the creative team, but especially the cast, it should not go unnoticed that a whopping six hours of Nöel Coward is no mean feat. The inevitable downside of such an ambitious production are the lulls in momentum and pace that would otherwise not pose a threat to the overall quality and enjoyment of the show. Littler could have done more to combat this; however, the talented cast should be applauded for their rich characterisations that tap into the true inspiration behind Coward’s work.

Reviews by Isabella Thompson

Orange Tree Theatre

Suite in Three Keys

★★★
Young Vic

The Homecoming

★★
Park Theatre

Passing

★★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Shoot From The Hip

★★★★
PBH's Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth

The Town Cryer

★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

I don’t wish to sound fussy, but I really don’t care to discuss false teeth during dinner. 

In a luxury Swiss hotel suite in the 1960s, three separate stories unfold: 

A Song at Twilight is a full-length play about a famous elderly writer, reputedly based on Somerset Maugham, who faces blackmail at the hands of an ex-lover threatening to expose his secret past.  

Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden, Maud form a perfect double-bill set in the same hotel suite. Shadows of the Evening explores the intricacies of a late-life love triangle, and Come into the Garden, Maud is a fizzing comedy about the misunderstandings between Americans and Europeans abroad.

Suite in Three Keys features a superlative cast – Stephen Boxer, Emma Fielding and Tara Fitzgerald – performing in both A Song at Twilight and the double bill of Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden, Maud.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Noël Coward’s death and the 125th of his birth in nearby Teddington, this is the first complete revival of Suite in Three Keys for a generation.

OT Artistic Director Tom Littler returns to Coward, following his landmark revival of Tonight at 8.30. Choose between the full-length A Song at Twilight or the double-bill of Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden, Maud – or see all three plays in a single day to celebrate the final flourish of Coward’s glittering career (see schedule below for days on which you can see all three plays). 

Show Info

PERFORMANCE TIMESMon – Sat 7:30pm Wed, Thu & Sat 2:30pm (from Thu 30 May) 

To see the breakdown of performances between A Song at Twilight and the double-bill of Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden, Maud please see here.

Three play days:

On the following dates audience members can see all three plays across a matinee and evening performance, for the full Suite in Three Keys experience:

Thu 30 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Sat 1 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Wed 5 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Thu 6 June (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill at 7.30pm)

Sat 8 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Wed 12 June (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill at 7.30pm)

Thu 13 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Sat 15 June (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill at 7.30pm)

Wed 19 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Thu 20 June (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill at 7.30pm)

Sat 22 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Wed 26 June (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill at 7.30pm)

Thu 27 June (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Sat 29 June (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill at 7.30pm)

Wed 3 July (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Thu 4 July (Song at Twilight matinee at 2.30pm, Double Bill  at 7.30pm)

Sat 6 July (Double bill matinee at 2.30pm, Song at Twilight at 7.30pm)

Members’ and Patrons’ Day with Post-Show matinee TalkThu 13 June

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