The Trinity Players have made a clearly popular choice in taking two of Noel Coward’s short plays to the Fringe this year – the performance I saw was almost sold out. However, the choice is also interesting; plays from Tonight at 8:30 are usually performed not in pairs but in trinities (see what I did there). The result is an abrupt shift in tone that is never quite rationalised within the performance as a whole. While one half hour documents the ridiculous goings on in the uppermost classes, the second shows a small family unit imploding when the man of the house decides to leave.
As always, Trinity Players should be commended for bringing together a reasonably sized and talented cast that can perform at Fringe without any loss of pride. However, it cannot be denied that the first half of the show, Hands Across the Sea, shows them very much playing to a perceived Oxford type – posh, loud and delightfully idiotic. That’s not to say the cast don’t pull it off pretty well – the accents are pitched well across the board and it’s clear that they understand the script in its entirety, skipping across the lines with good timing and aplomb. The larger set pieces of slapstick are too easy to see coming and enacted a little clumsily, but the smaller moments work well and earn larger laughs.
It’s a blessing to a show as a whole that the three strongest actors have the most to do – Howard Coase, Lucy Rands and Lucinda Smart all double up and show a considerable amount of talent in shifting characters, Rands and Coase most obviously (though Smart has little to do in the second half, playing a young girl seemingly with a persistent cold). Coase never quite manages to make Henry likable enough to overcome the insidious misogyny of Fumed Oak, but he does deliver the killer lines realistically, catching just the right cadences to trigger laughter. His role in the first half is smaller but still extremely good, a perfect straight man to the absurdity raging around him. Rands plays her part beautifully in Hands Across the Sea, hamming up her performance as Clare to eke out every drop of comedy. She does well enough with the character she’s given in Fumed Oak, the deceptive, possibly shrewish wife Dorris, but she doesn’t seem to have decided if Dorris is a nice person or not, leaving the conclusion to that half hour, and the show as a whole, uncertain and unsettling.
The staging is pleasantly dressed with a fine attention to detail that adds a great deal to the overall impression and certain elements of the set, like the telephone and drinks cabinet, are used particularly well to add a note of realism to proceedings. What Trinity Players have produced is a show that is clearly within their range, but too clearly within it – they have limited themselves by playing to type to ensure audiences without being audacious.
PHOTOS/ Lucy Rand