If anyone wants to take a mesmerising journey into matchless wit and style, watch Mad About the Boy, Barnaby Thompson’s documentary on Noël Coward, aka The Master. Coward dominated the arts world for decades with 60 plays, more than a dozen films, and then with all those songs, 500 of them.
The dire poverty he experienced growing up with his mum in the grim boarding house she ran in Pimlico gave way to the jewels and furs with which he festooned himself as he rose to the top. From a young age, Coward reinvented himself into a seemingly crystal-accented, blue-blooded society star. Little wonder, then, that class is an underlying theme in his work.
But it was his love affair with the United States – and its love for him, as Broadway and middle America fell for his inimitable lyrics – that saved his career. Kitchen-sink drama in the 1960s had relegated him to irrelevance, much to his fury. His plays then made a surprise comeback in his final years after he had sulkily but sensuously exiled himself in Jamaica as a stranded society relic.
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