I’ve always been intrigued by the life, loves and work of both Noel Coward and Ivor Novello, writes Stephen Vowles, and Ghost Lights written and directed David Slattery-Christy – and part of the London Song Festival – opens up that world beautifully.
As the singers came on to the stage, an eloquent male voice, typical of the BBC of the time, is heard coming out of a radio. It’s 1939, and he announces that due to the outbreak of war it has been decreed that all West End theatres must close with immediate effect and people must be encouraged to wear masks as the threat of the Nazi war planes dropping lethal gas bombs on the capital is a serious threat.
Of course the juxtaposition of then and today is not lost as we now fight a war of a different kind, but a very nice touch indeed. Justine Kehinde who plays one of Ivor Novello’s leading ladies, Elizabeth Welch, asks who is going to look after all the stage hands, the front of house staff, the technicians and other theatrical people. A question now relevant today; again another reminder of then and now.
With Rosemary Ashe as Dorothy Dickson, Rebecca Louise Dale as Mary Ellis and lastly Fenton Gray as Ivor Novello, this tribute to the talents of Coward and Novello came to life.
The beauty of the English language is clearly on display as we are taken back in time to a bygone era of cocktails, high society and pure glamour. The way the songs are linked together showcase with great style and remind us of how clever and witty both Novello and Coward were as lyricists and composers of what became the greatest hits of their day – especially the ensemble’s renditions of Mad About The Boy and Play Orchestra Play.
These songs are about romance and overcoming adversity; stirring stuff indeed. Coward and Novello’s homosexuality is mentioned as a matter of fact but not laboured on. They were who they were and in fact it is suggested that because of who they were and the circles they mixed in, no one cared; just like Cole Porter and George Cukor in Hollywood around the same time. Although it’s said the house parties thrown by Coward in particular were notoriously naughty.
Ghost Lights is a delightful and charming trip down memory lane. As an ensemble piece, it cannot be faulted with musical director and pianist Nigel Foster totally capturing the mood and flavour of the era.
The singers, especially Rosemary Ashe, are extremely polished and show a pure class refinement. Ghost Lights promotes a message that the great British Bulldog fighting spirit was very much alive then and is equally alive now. Totally fabulous!
Ghost Lights was reviewed on Friday 11th December at Hinde Methodist Church, Hinde Street, London W1U 2QJ. For details of other concerts during the London Song Festival visit www.londonsongfestival.org