Christopher Walker reviews A Song at Twilight

The third play in the Noel Coward triple bill at the wonderful little Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond is the strongest of the three.

The trilogy is Noel Coward’s last major work, three actors playing three different sets of characters, in three completely different situations, united by being in one luxury hotel suite.

This was three years before Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. Coward observed: “Such a good idea having different plays all played in a hotel suite! I wonder where Neil Simon got it from?”

Stephen Boxer and Emma Fielding in  Suite In Three Keys at the Orange Tree Theatre (Picture: Steve Gregson)

Coward focuses on the interplay within three-way love/friendship triangles, something he himself had considerable experience of. He was often the third wheel to leading theatrical couples such as Laurence Olivier and Vivian Lee, or acted as the apex to two adoring partners.

This autobiographical element is to the fore in A Song at Twilight.

Hugo Latymer, a bedraggled English writer played by Stephen Boxer, is guarded over by his German dragon of a wife Hilda. Their marriage is very business-like, perhaps too business-like, with Hilda combining the roles of assistant and manager, barking out her orders.

Emma Fielding yet again demonstrates her considerable versatility, and her accent is quite perfect – chapeau to Nick Trumble accent coach.

Tara Fitzgerald in Suite In Three Keys at the Orange Tree Theatre (Picture: Steve Gregson)

Peace is disturbed when one of Hugos ex’s, Carlotta, turns up from the United States. As Hugo notes she’s had ‘ludicrous amounts of plastic surgery’ and Tara Fitzgerald’s transatlantic accent is somewhat reminiscent of Joan Collins (bravo again Mr Trumble), as is her glorious hair (well done Chris Smyth). Carlotta has blackmail in mind, and Hugo quivers with fear.

Because the true autobiographical element in the play is the fact that Hugo, like Coward, is gay. Something quite illegal when the play premiered in 1966. An act of parliament remedied that the following year.

This work played some role in ending that injustice. Many lives were ruined before legalization, and some lost to suicide.

The drama is intense, thanks to three very accomplished actors, and brilliant direction by the Orange Tree’s Tom Littler. He goes from strength to strength.

For tickets go to

Pictured top: Emma-Fielding in Suite In Three Keys at the Orange Tree Theatre (Picture: Steve Gregson)

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