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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

A Marvellous Party
Stream Theatre   Autumn 2020

A welcome addition to the growing body of a new art form, Zoom Theatre, this salute to Noel Coward has about twenty performers, mainly British, offering entertaining excerpts from Coward's writings, for the most part in solo spots in front of their computers.

Produced by the online company Stream Theatre, it is a fundraiser on behalf of charities for the theatre community's suddenly-unemployed.

Unlike the similar Sondheim tribute also available online, the emphasis here is on Coward's poetry and memoirs rather than songs.

Derek Jacobi offers a spirited and engaging reading of 'I Can Remember,' Coward's poetic reverie on his days as a child actor, Emma Thompson wickedly underplays the satire of trendy psychoanalysis in 'Mrs Mallory,' and Kristine Nielsen lets all the stops out in Coward's bitter demolition of a gossip columnist in 'The Lady At The Party.'

Stephen Fry introduces the just-under-an-hour program, makes the first charity appeal, and then returns later to revel in all the fun of Coward's salute to a jolly widow, 'A Bar In The Piccola Marina,' zipping through it in a way that reminds us of Coward's debt to Gilbert and Sullivan.

Robert Lindsay pops up from time to time to deliver with admirable dryness one or another of Coward's witticisms and one-liners, and the visuals are repeatedly punctuated with snapshots of Coward at play.

Some of the other recitations are marred a bit by our seeing the performers' eyes darting nervously toward the scripts or cue cards just off camera, and although Judi Dench features prominently in the cast list, she is limited to a brief charity appeal.

The musical offerings are uneven. Bebe Neuwirth's 'Why Do The Wrong People Travel' is a bit too languid and Giles Terera's a capella 'If Love Were All' too sterile.

But the best is left for last as Patricia Routledge jollies her way through an infectiously happy celebration of the idle rich at their naughtiest ('people's behaviour away from Belgravia') in an hour-capping 'I Went To A Marvellous Party.'

Well worth an hour of your time, and well worth a donation to a good cause.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  A Marvellous Party 2020