JOYCE MCMILLAN on STAR QUALITY at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 18.11.11.
3 stars ***
WHEN A playwright begins to write plays that are entirely about theatre, it’s a pretty good sign that the game is up. It’s not that Noel Coward was ever less than amusing, in observing the folly and genius of his own profession; theatre people feature as characters in some of his finest plays. By 1967, though, when Coward wrote Star Quality, his preoccupation with theatre had become a touch obsessive; and even in Christopher Luscombe’s adaptation, the play is loud with the sound of axes being ground, old times being mourned, and old tensions around theatre and sexuality being mentioned, but not quite explored.
Star Quality is the story of the production of a new play, from the moment when the eager young playwright first meets the crowd-pulling stage diva who will play the leading role, to the fraught first night in Manchester. The characters include an arrogant young director accompanied by an assistant who is really his boyfriend, a bad actress employed because she is the diva’s loyal sidekick, and the diva’s ancient and witty housekeeper-cum-dresser; Coward’s point seems to be that thespians are all vain, silly, shallow, self-obsessed people, who still somehow – on occasions – manage to do great work together.
Not all Coward’s wit – hardly at its best here in any case – can disguise the truth that this is a deeply sentimental thought, as dull as it is old-fashioned. Within these limits, though, Joe Harmston’s touring production, in Edinburgh until Saturday, draws some sturdy and creditable performances from a twelve-strong cast, led with great distinction and wit by Amanda Donohoe as the diva Lorraine, Gay Soper as her ancient dresser, and Daniel Casey as the bruising young director. And for those who like to coo over the little lapdogs actresses sometimes carry like accessories – well, there’s one of those too, played by a little white-haired beauty called Lola, who all but steals the show.