21 March 2012
" A play by Noël Coward, at the Oxford Playhouse."
By: Reviewed by Julia Gasper
Star Quality, what is it? Nowadays we tend to call it the X-factor and it is still true that with it, a show or
film will succeed, and without it the whole enterprise, no matter how good the script or the production ideas, is
very likely to nose-dive. Audiences crave it and it is still the asset that show business - from TV to highbrow
stage plays - depends on to create a “hit”.
In Star Quality, a play that Coward wrote at the end of his career, he sums up all that he had learned about the
stage and the theatre life that he adored and, in some ways, came to personify. Its vanities, its rivalries, its
luvvies and second-raters whose purpose, it seems, is merely to be a foil to the stars, are all here. We see the
theatre’s cavalier treatment of mere authors who are flattered cynically and then told to re-write everything to
suit the director or the leading lady. Beneath the glamorous surface of theatreland is a perpetual power struggle
going on between the directors, like Ray Malcolm (Daniel Casey), and the stars like Lorraine Barrie (Liza Goddard),
who swan around in mink coats and feed on the fulsome praise of critics. Manipulation, histrionics and
confrontations end in a truce.
This is a play of nostalgia for the fifties and affectionate satire of a certain kind of drama, very much the sort
Coward wrote himself. It has plenty of humour and moments of wit - or are they bitchiness? “She’s got more lines in
her face than in the script,” someone says of an aging actress. Perhaps the budding author, Bryan Snow (Bob Saul)
is a touch too naïve, and falls too easily under the spell of the vain and self-dramatizing Lorraine. At the end of
Act One, he is left laboriously re-typing the last Act of his play to please the director who thinks that a suicide
would just be too melodramatic. I waited for some twist in the tail to follow on from this. It seemed almost
inevitable that when Marion Blake (Sarah Berger) the second-rate actress with her “Dahling” mannerisms, was dumped
and replaced at the last minute, that she would commit suicide. But she didn’t. She just vanished from the plot,
without leaving a trace. To me this was an ending that somehow did not quite reach a conclusion.
Nevertheless, Star Quality has many good lines, many amusing scenes and altogether makes a pleasant evening’s
Star Quality, adapted by Christopher Luscombe, is being performed at the Oxford Playhouse from now until Saturday
24th March at 7.30pm.