First Night: Coward's song a little off-key

a song at twilight, the king's head, london
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THE NOEL Coward Centenary Year opens with a revival of the play that brought his stage career to a critically commended close. A Song at Twilight - now directed in a shortened version by Coward's first biographer, Sheridan Morley - was part of the 1966 trilogy, A Suit in Three Keys, with which Coward signed off as a playwright and a leading actor. It was also the Coward play in which homosexuality arose as an "issue" rather than just an atmosphere.

Set in a Swiss hotel, it focuses on Sir Hugo Latymer, an eminent, elderly writer who, unlike Coward, has resorted to the camouflage of a long, presumably sexless, marriage.

Carlotta, an actress with whom Hugo once had an affair, arrives. She reveals that she has in her possession letters he wrote to the male love of his life whom he discarded in the interests of success. It emerges, however, that it's not conventional blackmail that the still aggrieved Carlotta has in mind; her aim is, rather, to force Hugo to a moment of self-recognition. In Morley's unconfident production, the skirmishes between the central couple are desperately uneven affairs. Nyree Dawn Porter's faltering delivery and smilingly apologetic manner are directly at odds with the coolly amused, tantalising aplomb with which Carlotta should keep us guessing about the precise nature of her mission. But Corin Redgrave's fine account of Hugo pulsates with all the petulant self-centredness and grand-eur of someone who has spent his life as Queen Bee in a silk dressing gown.

Corin has written a wonderfully sensitive book about the bisexual double life of his late father, Sir Michael Redgrave, (which included an affair with Coward). This understanding deepens and dignifies his performance.

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