Mild Oats was written in the early twenties and tells the bitter sweet comedy of a couple who have just met, coming back to a London flat late at night for one thing, only to find something very different happening…. Written early in his career Mild Oats shows Noel Coward’s emerging talents as a comic playwright with all the elegant dialogue and unspoken tensions of his later pieces.
Still Life is much more famous. This short play, first produced in London in 1936, was adapted by Coward himself for the David Lean film, Brief Encounter. It was originally one of ten short plays that made up Tonight at 8:30, a cycle written to be performed across three evenings.
The play depicts the love affair of Alec and Laura across a twelve-month period. The sadness of Alec and Laura’s serious and secretive affair is contrasted throughout the play with the boisterous, uncomplicated relationship of Myrtle and Albert, two of the station staff.
Lighthouse’s inspired production of these two witty, moving stories, with live music and just three actors, has been loved by audiences all over the country since its debut in 2011.
‘This was lovely stuff, played straight but with a humorous edge’Theatre-Wales website
‘Five Star Performances’South Wales Evening Post
‘They have served up a gem of a performance’
For a number of years now the Swansea-based Lighthouse Theatre Company have established themselves as a warm and friendly presence on the South Wales theatre circuit. Whether guiding you gently through Cwmdonkin Park to immerse you in exquisitely realised memories from the life of Dylan Thomas or recreating the city’s Three Nights’ Blitz in venues little bigger than your own living room, Lighthouse have always displayed a remarkable flexibility of staging and a genuine consideration for the comfort of their audiences – on occasion they’ve even been known to make you a cup of tea in the interval. But the geographical reach of this small-scale touring unit – affectionately thought of by some as a pocket-sized ‘National Theatre Mumbles’ – has also extended far beyond the shores of Swansea Bay. Indeed, their signature piece Brief Encounters, comprising two short plays by Noël Coward (of which one was the basis of a post-war British cinematic masterpiece), has been seen literally around the world since it was first performed in 2011.And the sheer quality of this production continues to evolve. For its latest incarnation Lighthouse have teamed up with visionary director Maxine Evans, fresh from her triumphant staging of new play Revlon Girls in London’s West End, to imbue this thematically mirrored pair of dramas with remarkable new-found integrity and dispel any lingering perception of Coward as a somewhat superficial writer. She has mined the material’s subtext with Pinteresque precision, her treatment layered, stylish and meticulous, so that every pause and gesture that the actors make is resonant with nuanced motivation. Sonia Beck and Adrian Metcalfe skilfully negotiate an astonishingly textured emotional terrain portraying two very different couples teetering on the brink of romantic involvement whilst, presiding over her station-café domain, the sublimely comic Llinos Daniel by turn soothes and compounds their turmoil with supplies of tea, gossip and freshly made buns. The action is completed by a live Rachmaninov underscore performed beautifully on piano by Joshua Stokes.A packed first-night house at Pontardawe Arts Centre – itself the most friendly of venues – embraced this classy, funny and at times deeply moving reworking with waves of heartfelt enthusiasm. No doubt the reach of the Lighthouse beam will extend still further in time, but tonight it also shone a darn sight brighter.
Reviewed by: David Hughes Sensitive Treatment of Two Coward One-Acters
Brief EncountersLighthouse Theatre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre Studio , September-18-15
“Coward’s verbal dexterity and skill at construction are evident in everything he writes, but only in some of his plays and movies does his deeply felt compassion for the lower middle class, which he escaped, come to the surface.” . The two plays, which Swansea’s Lighthouse Theatre has intriguingly put together, diverge significantly both in their familiarity and in their conviction.The first, the twenty-five minute long “Mild Oats”, is a two-hander set in the London flat borrowed from the pal of soldier Hugh Lombard (Adrian Metcalfe.)Sonia Beck is his guest, Mary Jevon, enjoying the freedom of the streets in escape from the vigilance of an aunt with whom she lives. She, in black fur coat and multi-fringed flapper dress, passes out after the mildest of whisky and sodas. Director Maxine Evans ensures an atmosphere of diffidence and unease, where the heavy-weighing carapace of social normality invites the conversation to turn to the weather. This coming-together, presented with great conviction, leads to a conclusion of some surprise. “Mild Oats” might be well a truthful account of the recharting of the relationship between the genders that followed the Great War and the first women’s suffrage act. This small piece from a youthful Noel Coward might conceivably be a coded encounter akin to the Rattigan of “Separate Tables”.The serving of tea links “Mild Oats” with the later “Still Life” but otherwise it is wholly different. The language of “horrid” , “rotten” and “jolly” locates it firmly in Coward-land but it is rooted in a situation of genuine agonised drama. Where “Mild Oats” plays out within a domestic interior “Still Life” is wholly acted out in a station café where hushed voices are the first necessity for privacy. Even then a pained parting in a public place runs the risk of interruption and recognition. Here a new character in the form of Llinos Daniel’s gushing Dolly Messiter is both disrupter and critical social eye.Adrian Metcalfe in his adaptation trims out Bill, Johnnie, Mildred and Young Man. Lighthouse tours with some doubling, done with a level of adroitness and smoothness that the smallness of the company does not matter.The most revealing, and probably enduring, aspect is the price that the boundary-crossing of fidelity demands. There is little of the moral stoicism that Pinter put into “Betrayal” of forty years later. Laura is plunged into language of “cheap” and “furtive” and “degraded”, against which Alec’s declarations of “lovely and strange and desperately difficult” are pretty hopeless. For a reviewer who has never seen much to “Private Lives” or “Hay Fever” this play has a harshness of genuine pain. It also touches on a truth, little expressed in a age of emotional lightness, that an ongoing life together may contain within itself a terrible loneliness.Reviewed by: Adam Somerset
Brief Encounters, Dylan Thomas Theatre.South Wales Evening Post Review – September 18th 2015. Geraint Thomas.Lovers of great theatre were given a brief taste of the genius of Noel Coward in this excellent one-night only production of Swansea-based Lighthouse Theatre at the Dylan Thomas Theatre.Two one-act plays exploring the coming together of hearts, Mild Oats and Still Life, were superbly brought to life by the talented Adrian Metcalfe and Sonia Beck having been directed by Stella star Maxine Evans.The Lighthouse Theatre Company continues to be a beacon of quality and must be commended for shining a light on the world of theatre amidst the dangerous waters of public spending cuts – if only more people allowed themselves to be guided safely into the arms of its cultural haven. Reviewed By: Geraint Thomas