In defence of Coward at Worthing and Southsea

Kit - of Kit And The Widow fame - is ready to repel Sondheim in his attack on Noel Coward.

Wednesday, 16th March 2011, 6:51 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 5:57 pm

“Sondheim finds him sentimental and condescending and over patriotic,” laments Kit who is reviving the Coward revue Cowardy Custard.

“But Sondheim speaks as an American who didn’t go through the Blitz. There is a core of English decency about Coward that Sondheim doesn’t understand.”

What adds to the appeal is Coward’s complete understanding of showbiz, Kit feels.

“He really did understand the business end. In public imagination, he is this glittering art deco creature, but underneath all that was an engine that really did understand the theatre from the inside out. He braved no nonsense. He was a practical man of the theatre, understood it and got on with it.

“There was a fashion in the 50s to knock him, but he bounced back pretty damned quickly. As the years have gone by, he is seen as some frivolous matinee idol in a dressing gown, but really, he tapped right into the heart of English society - and not just middle-class society.

“He was accused of being a snob and trying to escape from his working-class roots, but the people that he stayed closest in touch with were the people from his own lower-middle class background.”

Of course there was a remoteness about him: “But he grew up in the 1920s when everybody was trying to escape the horrors of the trenches. Everybody was trying to escape to Never Never Land, but he was not endorsing it. He understood it.”

Cowardy Custard was a revue compiled in celebration of his work towards the end of his life. The revival puts back in a few “crown jewels” for which the rights hadn’t been available.

The show brings together more than 40 of Coward’s songs, including Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington, A Room With A View, Mad About The Boy, The Stately Homes Of England, I’ve Been To A Marvellous Party, London Pride and Mad Dogs And Englishmen.

The revue also contains unpublished material, excerpts from Coward’s diaries and autobiographies, and scenes from Tonight at 8:30, Present Laughter and Design For Living.

The tour includes: May 3-7, Connaught Theatre, Worthing (01903 206206); and May 23 and 24, Kings Theatre, Southsea (02392 828282).