Brighton Fringe 2012
"A nautical musical comedy featuring, for the first time on stage, Noël Coward’s ‘P&O 1930’. His magical evocation of the great age of the ocean liner featuring songs by Coward himself and a motley group of passengers, brought to life by actor/ pianist/singer Michael Lunts!"
This is a fantastic new find for all Coward officianados, and if you have never seen a Coward play but enjoy modern wits such as Stephen Fry, try the delights of Michael Lunts’ clever adaptation of Noel Coward’s evocative narrative poem “P & O 1930” into a musical play. He takes the audience on a sea voyage from China to Tilbury over two acts, making gentle fun of all the rigours of cruising in the 30s, from the endless deck games and cocktails to the flirtations – and even the sea sickness as the piano rumbles up a storm.
Michael Lunts is a handsome, multi-talented performer who not only sings in a pleasant baritone, plays the piano like a dream and can portray a rich variety of Coward characters, but has the boldness to introduce other people’s songs into the Coward scene to evoke an era – Kurt Weil, Jerome Kern, even a deliciously slow and therefore fully comprehensible and amusing patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan. The narrative conjures up wonderful pictures of ports fading into the distance, of early morning light on a far horizon, of warmer climes and then at the end, of England’s coast as the ship breaches the Channel.
There’s a rich variety of treasures, including the rolling storm, and the humour of other people’s seasickness, witty phrases which bring characters to life, the touching death of a passenger allied to the melodic, beautiful “I’ll See You Again”, then the narrative segueing beautifully to gentle humour to lift the show back onto its comedic course. Kern and Green’s henpecked husband, and Mr Lunts’ impeccable diction and rich variety of expression throughout all the songs, so that one heard “Nina” or "Mad Dogs and Englishmen” or the surprising but utterly appropriate “Cocktails for Two” as if for the first time.
There was a change of pace and mood with different aspects of the long voyage, such as the strange peaceful process through the Suez Canal and the endless desert beyond, after the rigours of the ocean, or the change of light and slight sadness as the cruise comes to its inevitable conclusion as the sight of England heralds partings and reunions with old loves.
When the audience in the Brighton Buddhist Centre were shown into the Meditation Room at the top of the building, with its many windows, oriental looking skylight and woven hangings, it hardly seemed the place for a theatrical performance, but when the lights focussed on the excellent set, with its palm trees, rattan furniture and ship’s rails, we were transported at once to the far East and realised how appropriate the room was as a setting.
From then onwards, every detail fell into place beautiful, the impeccably chosen and timed sound effects including the ship’s hooters, the perfectly creased trousers on the light suit and all the hats and jackets Mr Lunts used to suggest the different characters who peopled the show . We were comfortably in the hands of consummate professionals and we had no fears of sinking!
Try and grab the chance to go on this delightful voyage. If you’ve ever been on a cruise you’ll love it and if you’ve only dreamt of visiting exotic places, you’ll love it too. Even the programme is well illustrated, well written and compiled. “A rare gem” indeed!