Fleeting affairs and quick-witted comedy

By Narelle Wood

Noel Coward’s Semi Monde presented by Seven Actors is a complex web of scandal and affairs, played out in the streets of Paris, that provides just as many laughs as it does relationships. The recent Melbourne production at Trades Hall was performed by a versatile cast including Kelly Ryan, Jade Thomson, Lisa Dallinger, Ross Larkin, Malcolm Nash, Ebony Higgins and Scott Jackson.

Semi Monde

Set in the mid 1920’s, the opulence of the party era is in full swing. Each of Coward’s thirty characters takes full advantage of the extravagant lifestyle, capturing the flirtatious and risqué nature of expressing, or hiding, one’s sexuality and affection. The play doesn’t focus on any one character or group of characters, rather it moves from group to group as if observing the coming and goings of a whole range of regulars at L’hotel Sept, where the intrigue unfolds. Over a series of lunches and cocktails, relationships breakdown, alliances are forged, affairs begin and love is rekindled. There are, amongst many others, the flamboyant-gossip-loving gays, the newly weds, the author and his amorous daughter, various entertainers and a mysterious Russian.

The intricacies of the storyline coupled with the number of characters and only 7 actors resulted in the play being a little hard to follow at times. There were some very quick transitions between characters that were facilitated by accent changes and costume embellishments; in the 3rd act these transitions were executed with skillful flair as performers shifted back and forth between several characters within only a few minutes. While most of the cast, under the direction of Scott Jackson, formed clear delineations between their multiple roles, there were a few times where the transformations were harder to follow, but it was difficult to tell whether this was due to similar character archetypes or the portrayal of the character.

This enjoyable production of Semi Monde was an ambitious undertaking that was well executed. The production was minimalist but effective, though I couldn’t help imagine a more elaborate extravaganza of characters, sets and costumes. Nevertheless Semi Monde was a frolicking good time.

Seven Actors Present Noel Coward’s Semi Monde was performed from 10-15 December 2015 at The Kelvin Club and Trades Hall.