'Noel and Gertie' review or 'Not enough flair and fizz!'

'Noel and Gertie'. Devised by Sheridan Morley. Words and music of Noel Coward
Cockpit Theatre, Friday 30th September
Written for Time Out

Gertie - don't turn away when Coward's serenading you!

Noel Coward isn't your obvious choice for a musical retrospective, but he actually composed a slew of witty ditties in his time. Many of the songs, he wrote with with Gertrude Lawrence in mind. The two met as childhood actors and Sheridan Morley's show, with the aid of diary, letter and play extracts, tracks their interlinking lives.

On press night, the show suffered a false start, with a gramophone crackling forlornly in the shadows for a good ten minutes. The production – directed by Thom Southerland who recently had a hit with 'Parade' – never really recovers. Ben Stock is a strong pianist and he performs the jaunty, rhythmic numbers well. But he's a little restrained and misses that expansive, brilliantly self indulgent flair, that any Coward impersonator should possess in spades.

Helena Blackman, a runner up in 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria', is this show's star attraction. She has a nicely textured voice and her solo numbers are emotionally rich but her voice sounds a tad over-trained in the close surroundings of The Cockpit Theatre.

Crucially, the two voices don't merge well; Blackman's polished voice slides over but never really synchronises with Stock's softer tone. Their harmonies sound hollow and their chemistry is, unfortunately, equally flat. This lack of fizz, or indeed sense of fun, is particularly exposed in the play extracts. Morley isolates some of Coward's feistiest scenes but that infamous meeting in 'Brief Encounter', which should positively burn from within, isn't nearly brief enough.


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