Review: Noël Coward’s Christmas Spirits (St James’s Theatre) JohnnyFox December 11, 2014 Musicals, Reviews, Theatre Richly fruited old theatricals don’t come much more Londony or patriotic than Teddington-born, Pimlico-raised Noël Coward: he even wrote our Blitz-surviving anthem ‘London Pride’. Well, apart from him being a tax exile in Switzerland and Jamaica of course, he was London through and through. Beyond a first name stemming from his December birthday, there is little to link Coward specifically to the festive season so it’s a slightly rare confection for writer and director Nick Hutchinson to mash a handful of seasonal songs with random Christmas and wartime readings, and a few uncharacteristically saccharine snatches from Noel’s letters and diaries. Some of it’s predictable, some surprisingly apt. He is blessed, though, in Stephan Bednarczyk with a leading man who not only looks more Coward-like than Coward himself, he sings better too and plays the piano beautifully both when accompanying himself, and the two women who decorate the piece. Set at Christmas 1940 – when the author was struggling with Blithe Spirit – he summons up Madame Arcati in the form of a gurning Issy van Randwyck who speaks the lines as though reading from a Berlitz phrasebook. She sings too, but the adjacent Australian critic didn’t believe us when we told him she’d had an extensive musical career before opting for wife and motherhood with Ed (Hampstead Theatre) Hall. She is much better at the comic numbers, and the readings: Coward’s poem about air raids ‘Lie In The Dark And Listen’ is revelatory and haunting, showing a side of him you may not know from his frothy comedies and waspish lyrics. Listen for the line about ‘soft hysterical little actors’. Fortunately, Charlotte Wakefield, so brilliant as Maria in the Sound of Music at Regent’s Park and here dressed fetchingly as a wartime Land Girl is also on hand to deliver some charming and choice vocals including a breathtakingly understated ‘White Christmas’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’. Yes, we know Coward didn’t write either of those, it’s that kind of an evening. Ding dong merrily, sometimes on a high.