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This little-known Noel Coward play about a group of island residents fails to generate any heat. logo
Jason Durr and Jenny Seagrove
in Volcano
(© Keith Pattison)
With a title like Volcano, now at the Vaudeville Theatre, one could be forgiven for expecting this work from the canon of provocatively witty playwright Noel Coward to be explosive. But in watching the show, under the languid direction of Roy Marsden, one understands why this work never even received a production during the lifetime of its writer. It's a one-note affair that fails to generate any heat at all.

Recent widow Adela Shelly (Jenny Seagrove) runs a home on the fictional Pacific island of Samolo (based on Jamaica, where Coward and many of his friends resided) alongside an active volcano. She is immediately taken by Guy Littleton (Jason Durr), a married visitor who apparently has the ability to make all women around him go weak in the knees. And from the first set-shaking rumble of that volcano, it's clear that Guy is going to end up rocking somebody's world. But who's will it be?

In many ways, Volcano feels like Tennessee Williams-lite, but despite a committed performance on the part of Seagrove, Adela isn't actually the fulcrum on which this play pivots. Indeed, once Guy's wife, Melissa (an appropriately prissy Dawn Steele) arrives in Samolo, it doesn't take long to see that Coward is less interested in Adela's dilemma -- should she abandon stoicism for lust? -- than in the idea of the transmutability of love, or at least sex. In fact, Volcano is less a well-made play than an instrument by which Coward clearly wanted to push the boundaries of addressing homosexuality onstage.

All of which would be fine if more of Coward's characteristic subtlety and sophisticated wit were on display, But sadly, Volcano is a blunt work in which all characters wear their heart's desires on their sleeves, and talk ad infinitum about what they're feeling. There is no mystery as to what (or who) the characters want; they just come out and say it.

In fact, at one point, a character (played by Tim Daish) mentions an early love interest who has tainted him for future partners. When asked who that might be, said character immediately walks onstage. And within 90 seconds, the two are playfully rolling around on the stage floor.

More damagingly, Marsden's slow pacing, coupled with his penchant for blocking the characters in a pattern in which they repeatedly walk back and forth across the stage, is both redundant and unilluminating. (And shouldn't the titutar volcano actually erupt at some point?)

In the end, as well, Guy is simply too much of a cipher; the handsome Durr shows how Guy can attract all of those around him, but not how he can so easily charm them.

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