Can men and women every really be just friends? It’s a question that has continued to plague romantic comedies since well before Noel Coward’s 1920s take on it in Home Chat. But now, in a repeat of the Roaring 20s, most of us can agree that the question is out-dated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t poke fun at the fuddy-duddies with issues of propriety and reputation up their noses.
When Janet (Abbie Love) returns home from a trip, she arrives on a sea of scandal after a train accident revealed her to be sharing a sleeping carriage with her long time but male friend Peter (Cameron Hutt). Much to her dismay, her family greet her with disdain and assumptions of adultery. The irony is that her husband Paul (Kendall Drury) has had a female best friend (Ruba El-Kaddoumi) for years and never faced the same suspicion. Thus Janet and Paul hatch a plan to give the gossips what they want, a big romping affair. Only the charade turns up more than they bargained for in Peter’s broken engagement with Lavinia (Scarlet Hunter) and Janet’s broken marriage.
Noel Coward’s script blends the best bits of drama and farce with extreme characters and some serious scandal for an early 20th-century audience. The tension is held in check by director Barry Nielson and the plot remains surprising despite the familiar story of old and new social conventions butting heads. The directing felt fresh and lively which matched the bold Art Deco set design by Tom Fahy. The 1920s were a time of change and innovation and it was good to see that same energy injected into this production.
In particular, Love’s performance as Janet was free and exciting as she embraced her brash side. Her counterpart in Peter saw one of Hutt’s best performance yet as a snarky but charismatic young bachelor. The duo were sharp and witty together for some very entertaining bantering scenes. The other crowd favourite duo were Paul and Janet’s mothers Mrs Chillham (Jenny Jacobs) and Mrs Ebony (Lois Marsh). These two presented the cold and deadly sarcasm underpinning polite company for some truly laugh-out-loud digs.
When backed into a corner, accused of crimes against society, why not have a little fun and prove them all right? In the end, people are going to think what they want anyway.
Home Chat is running at the Genesian Theatre from November 6th – December 12th
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