Witty words and waspish humour are Noel Coward’s insignia, but he was also skilled at revealing character and complicated emotions, as this play shows.
Simon Callow plays Hugo a famous writer, sojourning in a luxury hotel in Switzerland. His wife and former secretary Hilde (Jessica Turner), organises him and remains serene as he calls her a camel and flusters about their suite.
As she observes, he is grumpy and nervous as his old flame is about to visit - almost 40 years after their affair ended.
Carlotta (Jane Asher) swishes in looking fabulous and utterly poised. She is also evidently fascinated by other people, noticing Hilde's niceness and hint of loss as well as remarking on the good looks of young waiter Feliz (Ash Rizi).
Hugo praises his guest’s youthful appearance but recoils when she cheerfully discusses her two facelifts and false teeth.
They move from banter and back, to cutting jibes and then anger when Carlotta reveals the purpose of her visit.
The 'grand old man of letters is outraged that his former lover wishes to publish their billets doux and angrily refuses permission. But Carlotta has something up her elegant sleeve...
The production draws you in with Coward's sparkling dialogue but you become desperate to know the secret behind the characters' actions.
Simon Callow is just superb, especially when Hugo gets angry, and is well matched by Jane Asher. Jessica Turner too was excellent – winning warm laughs in the scene where Hilde returns a little tipsy from her evening out.
Enjoyable and poignant, A Song at Twilight is laughter and though-provoking.