The Vortex

Posted on: 27 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Felicity Kendal grows old disgracefully in a revival of Noel Coward's play.

"This picture of a frivolous and degenerate set of people gives a wholly false impression of society life and to my mind the time has come to put a stop to the harmful influence of such pictures on stage," was how the Lord Chamberlain initially reacted to the work of a promising young playwright.

The playwright in question was Noel Coward and the play The Vortex was the work which not only made his name but sealed his reputation as one of the greats. This highly acclaimed early play is now revived in a masterly new production directed by Sir Peter Hall at the Apollo Theatre.

Set amidst the glittering decadence of fashionable London society in the late 1920s, the story centres on the tempestuous relationship between ageing but glamorous socialite Florence and her hedonistic son Nicky. Florence is a shrill, self-obsessed woman chasing an uncaring lover exactly the same age as her son, while her adored 24-year-old son Nicky has a fiancée he doesn’t love and a drug addiction he can't shake. The downward spiral of a mother-son relationship eventually comes to the boil as both protagonists are forced to reassess their lives and face up to home truths.

Coward here paints a vivid picture of a decaying, narcissistic society obsessed with youth and looks and this play still has a thing or two to teach us today in our age-obsessed 21st century. Peter Hall's deft direction skilfully negotiates the dramatic shift in mood from witty, carefree frivolity to something darker and more disturbing in the later acts.

Felicity Kendal gives a truly splendid performance as the petulant, deeply troubled Florence, a woman who believes the more she preens and twirls, the more she keeps those wrinkles at bay, while Dan Stevens as the son Nicky, who has to compete for her attentions, and Phoebe Nichols as her waspish, perceptive best friend live and breathe their characters' complexities and frailties.

This indeed is an absorbing and thought-provoking production that provides an illuminating insight into the flaws and foibles of human nature and appears as freshly minted as when it was first staged.

Plays until 7th June 2008.

Laurence Green

Booking Information

Box office: 0870 040 0080

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