Writer: Noel Coward
Director: Trevor Nunn
Reviewer: Richard Loftus
The question of class, in the opening dialogue of Noel Coward’s Relative Values, is reminiscent of headlines in 2010 regarding Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton. Trevor Nunn’s production begins its run at Bath’s Theatre Royal a month before the Duke and Duchess’ first child is due – meanwhile in 1951, the newsreel which is used as a brief interlude between scenes, remarks how in an ever-changing world the only thing that stays the same are the Royals!
Relative Values is a comical clash of the classes, as Young Earl Nigel (Sam Hoare) announces he will marry a Hollywood actress (Katherine Kingsley). But when it comes to light that the film-star is also the sister of the Earl’s mother’s maid (Caroline Quentin), a humorous mousetrap is set.
The play takes time to set the scene with explanations of who’s who and what’s what. It isn’t until Kingsley’s entrance as leading lady Miranda Frayle in Act 2, Scene 1, that the audience can begin to revel in the humour of pretension, with Alice, the housemaid (Caroline Quentin), trying desperately to portray herself as an aristocrat.
Felicty, Countess of Marshwood, is played by the brilliant Patricia Hodge who delivers the sharp wit of Noel Coward with exquisite precision. Along with Steven Pacey as her on-stage nephew, The Honourable Peter Ingleton, the pair provide a class-act. Watching their interaction and reactions, on Stephen Brimson Lewis’ divine and decadent set, are the most enjoyable moments of Trevor Nunn’s production.
After the interval, in Act 2, Scene 2, the feud between Quentin and Kingsley comes to a head far too quickly and thus the remaining scenes become unsurprising, aside from the splintering of Coward’s trademark witticisms. When the Hollywood star Don Lucas (Ben Mansfield) arrives to rescue Miranda, things are quickly and predictably returned to their original state and one is left questioning whether anything ever does change – whether it be the Royals, the class-system or society.