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A Choice Of Coward

A Choice Of Coward“One of Britain’s best and most beloved
  playwrights of the 20th Century, Noel
  Coward wrote some wonderfully witty
  plays that are delightful ‘windows
on life
  — including the short series showcasing
  his work that appeared as part of ITV
  prestigious Play Of The Week in 1964

FOUR OF THE LEGENDARY NOEL COWARD'S finest plays, featuring as part of ITV's Play Of The Week in 1964 and directed by Joan Kemp-Welch, are now available to buy on DVD in the two-disc set A Choice Of Coward.

Joan Kemp-Welch is one of the UK's first female writer-directors and her work includes plays from Shakespeare, Harold Pinter and Oscar Wilde to passion plays. The four plays — Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit, The Vortex and Design For Living — are brilliantly introduced by Noel Coward himself and benefit from an exceptional cast that includes Peter Wyngarde, James Bolam, Barbara Murray, Hattie Jacques and Philip Bond.

Coward describes his Present Laughter as "a flagrant example of a star vehicle" and says that "if I'd ever really cared about press notices I would have shot myself in the early Twenties!" Luckily he became successful and wrote Present Laughter with the idea of providing himself with "a bravura part". The essence of his character is mirrored in his plays that reflect his chosen sectors of life so brilliantly. Coward's plays have stood the test of time and provide a glimpse of a bygone age.

Present Laughter revolves around the life and the theatrical friends of matinee idol Garry Essendine (played perfectly by Peter Wyngarde) who believes he "belongs to his public and his work". Although still married to estranged wife Liz (Ursula Howells), Garry is a serial womaniser whose little indiscretions — the latest of which is the young debutante Daphne (Jennie Linden) — cause much consternation for his long-suffering PA Monica (Joan Benham).

To complicate matters, his friends also have their own troubles and his housekeeper Miss Erikson (Ruth Porcher) is a dour Scandinavian Spiritualist instead of the French chef he would have preferred. When the flighty Joanna (Barbara Murray), who is married to Gary's friend Henry (Edwin Apps) but who has an admirer in Maurice (Danvers Walker), and oddball Roland Maule (James Bolan) turn up at Garry's apartment, a delightful little comedy of errors ensues. Maybe they should all just go with Garry on his planned trip to Africa!

Adapted for television by Peter Wildeblood and Directed by Joan Kemp-Welch, Present Laughter also features the charming Jane Eccles as Lady Saltburn.

As Noel Coward introduces one of my favourite plays, Blithe Spirit, he mentions that he "will always be grateful for the almost psychic gift that enabled him to write Blithe Spirit in just five days in one of the darkest years of the war". Fun and innovative, this lovely play features the wonderful Hattie Jacques as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati.

Charles Condomine (Griffith Jones) bites off a bit more than he can chew in Blithe Spirit when he invites local Spiritualist Madame Arcati to join him, his second wife Ruth (Helen Cherry) and their two friends Dr George Bradman (Edward Jewesbury) and his wife (Coral Fairweather) at dinner before holding a sťance.

Charles is after some inspiration for a novel he is writing about a homicidal Spiritualist and is convinced that Madame Arcati is a fraud, but during the sťance the ghost of his dead mischievous first wife Elvira (Joanna Dunham) puts in an appearance, having been summoned by the medium's 'control', Daphne — with hilarious results.

Blithe Spirit also features Ursula Hirst as the dotty Edith. Music is by Noel Coward; Adapted for television by Gerald Savory; Directed by Joan Kemp-Welch.

The Vortex was written by Coward in 1924 and is a complex exploration of the relationship between a mother — the once-beautiful Florence Lancaster (Margaret Johnston), who lives in the past and is a serial adulterer with a string of lovers half her age — and her drug-fuelled, effete son who is trying to come to terms with his own sexuality. The play also features Philip Bond, Tom Gill and Tony Bateman.

Written in 1932, Design For Living looks at the complicated three-way relationship between Gilda, Otto and Leo. Although she has been entangled with Otto and then Leo, Gilda finally marries Ernest. But is she truly happy and will she ever forget the other men? Design For Living features Jill Bennett, Daniel Massey and John Wood.

Noel Coward is as magnificent as he is the epitome of Britishness and the wonderful plays chosen for A Choice Of Coward reflect perfectly his powers of observations and a wickedly dry sense of humour. First class.

A Choice Of Coward is released by Network DVD on 18 January 2010. Certificate: PG | RRP: £19.99 | Total Running Time: 345 Minutes Approximately.

"Noel Coward is as magnificent as he is the epitome of Britishness and the wonderful plays chosen for A Choice Of Coward reflect perfectly his powers of observations and a wickedly dry sense of humour. First class" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar