Continuing with contemporary playwrights, the purpose of this session was to learn more about Noël Coward and some of his plays. As I had not heard of Noël Coward before this session, the aim is to learn some of his biography and to then look through one of his plays, just like last week and then see how we would stage it.
Coward was born on 16th December 1899 and died on 26th March 1976 (1), he started writing pre-war and although he was called up to go to war, he was sent home before going out to duty because he was deemed unfit after an accident when he was 9 (2). He also did not go out to duty in WW2, however, he entertained the troops instead which meant he briefly stopped writing (3).
Many of his plays were written through the 1920’s and 1930’s, some of his plays during his writing career were:
- ‘The Last Chapter’ (1917-his first play)
- ‘The Young Idea’ (1922)
- ‘Hay Fever’ (1925)
- ‘Home Chat’ (1927)
- ‘Post Mortem’ (1932)
- ‘Design For Living (1932)
- ‘Present Laughter’ (1939)
- ‘Peace In Our Time’ (1947)
- ‘Relative Values’ (1951)
- ‘Star Quality’ (1967)
As well as plays, he also wrote songs including ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ and ‘Mrs Worthington’.
In his pieces, he often liked to keep them short, unlike when we looked at Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’, we looked at one of Coward’s plays, ‘Blithe Spirit’ (1941) where the speech is short and to the point to keep it flowing and quick. The section of ‘Blithe Spirit’ we looked at was the Charles and the ghost of his wife (who he summoned back) Elvira arguing and ending with her desperate to be sent back.
I set this scene with Harry and I portrayed Elvira as childish and angry. This was because although Charles has grown older, Elvira has not because she had died so has not been able to grow and mature, meanwhile she was already a young character, much younger than Charles. The main thing I learned while doing this was that for scenes like this, you can easily make one of the characters more powerful just by sitting down stage and refusing to turn towards them. This will leave the other actor trying to get your attention and wondering what you could be doing downstage. The actor upstage will literally be looking down at the other actor with the most power.
In conclusion, I was able to meet my aim of the session and learn more about Coward and after the session, I found the names of more of his plays which I have typed above. I was also able to portray a character that was different for me as Elvira is dead and childish, especially in the scene that we worked on. While we were practicing how to set it, myself and Harry just read through the script and acted it out without talking about it. This was helpful for us as we didn’t have to overthink everything and got positive feedback on the end.