Noel Coward was way too clever…one of those people who was brilliant at trillions of genres. Personally, I prefer a more normal dilettante type like most of ours truly’s. Long before computers and spreadsheets, the guy wrote ‘SEMI MONDE’; a play with over three dozen characters and innumerable revolving-door inter-relationships. It must have been a Herculean task to create and keep each one pigeon-holed and maintain their individual psyches straight. Talking about straight, Coward wasn’t and I always thought how delicious it would have been if he had been into S/M…his long-time partner was Graham Payn! Photo courtesy of Jim Smagata
The title derives from the descriptive Demi-Monde, or half-world that referred to the elaborately hedonists who dedicated their lives to parties, sex, clothes and immediate gratification…sort of like today’s rap stars. Although written in 1926, it only became a standard part of theatre repertoire in the seventies. To direct such a challenging vehicle, UTM chose Brian McKay and it must have been a colossal but interesting task to undertake. The relationships are illustrated via brief vignettes, thus the cast members must be continually in a state of entry/exit. This necessitates copious flouncing… readers may recall my negative feelings about ‘flounce’. Aside from that jarring note, McKay keeps his audience’s attention by maintaining a furious pace and incredibly precise blocking. He utilizes each separate act to have us first meet friends/acquaintances; the couples in Act II and finally examines the males relationships and female connections.
The cast members, leads and support; must express and even epitomize their individual characters. The idiosyncrasies; psyches; orientations (including quantifiers) that manifests the stereotypes that Coward wants to project, demand more than just verbalizing. McKay particularizes stance; pauses and especially facial expressions by every one of his charges. Thus, the audience quickly begins to categorize, even departmentalize each portrayal.
There are a few standout performances; Sarah Robbins possesses a smile & twinkle that express full emotional range; the relationship between Esposito & Di Rosa rings genuine. Strong portrayals are given by Ben Hayward and Ali Richardson in all of their multiple roles. The almost closing philosophical soliloquy offered by Josh Wiles’ Jerome Kennedy, almost paraphrases Coward’s intended circumstances.
The set is elaborate and certainly RITZ’y from the chandeliers to the correctly appropriate glassware; tea service and table linen. The furniture is period-correct French Provincial and the servers properly obsequious. Bartender Tavia Pereira gives another strong 3-role representation. The costumes are outstanding. Stylish, worn with verve and élan, they also help the audience easily identify the diverse characters. Joanne Massingham & her nine -member wardrobe crew provide pure icing for this remarkable undertaking. The accents ring true; the fast-paced dialogue -coherent and comprehensible.
There is a bit of a negative. Renovations to Theatre Erindale means that this old body needs to schlep (v. Yid – drag or carry) about a mile or two further (hyperbole – hi pur bolé, n. to embroider or exaggerate). I lose my space [“media perk”] next to the theatre entrance, and lastly – means I have to actually buy a parking receipt! SEMI-MONDE will be at Theatre ERINDALE until Nov. 4th.