Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre

“We’ll press upon the enemy until he’s in a funk,
And show him its no easy thing resisting British spunk”

Just a quickie to cover this return trip to Privates on Parade, the opening show of Michael Grandage’s 5 show takeover of the Noël Coward Theatre, as I was able to attend the final performance of the run thanks to the day-seating efforts of a friend. I liked the show immensely when I saw it at the end of last year and whilst I could see that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, I was somewhat surprised at the charge of ‘dated’ that some people levelled at the play. Perhaps it’s a conversation that needs to be had with someone who actually felt that way but it feels erroneous to me, not least because it’s not even set (late 1940s) when it was written (1977).

The biggest change of course was due to the untimely and sudden death of Sophiya Haque who played the role of Sylvia. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the company to continue after such a tragedy and all credit to understudy Davina Perera who rose to the challenge of taking on the role full time mid-run and achieving a seamless transition. Otherwise, I enjoyed the show just as much as I did first time round and having a better sense of the play as a whole, I appreciated the emotional depths of the writing that much more, the comedy has a more astringent edge in the knowledge of what is to come.

For me, this was Simon Russell Beale at his best. He’s an actor whom many have raved about to me for years now, yet I’d never seen him in a role which seemed to justify such praise. But as Captain Terri Dennis, everything seemed to click into place – emotive drama, twinkle-eyed campery, singing, dancing and a joie de vivre that proved utterly irresistible. I genuinely hope he’s had as much fun as he seems to have had performing the role as indeed the rest of the company have as well. Angus Wright’s colonial throwback, John Marquez’s delightful Brummie, Joseph Timms’ fast-maturing Flowers, Grandage really did assemble a top notch group of actors to ensure his ambitious season got off to the best of starts.

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