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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Two Most Perfect Things
Riverside Studios   Summer 2012

This very modest show four singers and a pianist is a salute to Noel Coward and Ivor Novello, friendly rivals in the first half of the Twentieth Century as playwrights, songwriters and performers. 

Between bits of biography and quotations we hear at least excerpts from more than two dozen songs by each, allowing us to enjoy and perhaps compare and judge them. 

If you do judge, it is likely that Coward will come out very much ahead. Novello specialised in a sort of lush romantic operetta that was very popular then but hasn't aged well, and too many of his songs sound both alike and rather generic, while Coward's songs, not all tied to shows, range from the witty (Mad Dogs and Englishmen) to the sentimental (Someday I'll Find You). 

It's not just a matter of variety. Coward's songs are much more likely to catch you unaware, either musically (that little jump the melody takes at 'smile a little smile' in Someday I'll Find You) or lyrically (the surprisingly evocative imagery of his wartime song London Pride, which wipes the floor with Novello's similarly-themed Rose of England). 

To be fair, Novello's most famous song, Keep The Home Fires Burning, has undiminished power, and a couple of the others are uncharacteristic enough to be pleasant surprises. 

But it's not the primary purpose of the show to judge the composers but to celebrate them, and I fear that the performances don't help a lot. 

The classically-trained singers have all the vices of opera singers attempting popular music undifferentiated open vowels, excessive tremolo and general oversinging that in the Novello songs contribute to making them all sound alike and in the Coward do violence to lyrics that need crisp and clear enunciation. 

(On the other hand, it is a delightful relief to encounter four singers capable of making themselves heard over a single piano without microphones, far too rare an experience these days.)

The Coward songs are for the most part familiar ones, so most people will come to this show to be introduced to or reminded of the Novello. It's a pleasant and harmless hour or so that you can sit and let wash over you without any effort on your part, which may be all you want on a summer evening.

(Oh, and 'the two most perfect things', according to Coward, were Novello's profile and Coward's wit.)

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Two Most Perfect Things - Riverside Studios 2012 

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