STAR QUALITY is a play within a play, adapted from a 1951 short story and unproduced 1967 script by writer, wit and bon vivante Noël Coward.
It tells the story of troubled West End production Dark Heritage as its cast, author and director struggle to lift it above the mediocre.
Leading lady Lorraine Barrie, played as a whirl of ego, preciousness and coquetry by Liza Goddard, battles with director Ray Malcolm (Daniel Casey of Midsummer Murders fame) for creative control of the play.
Earnest, first-time young writer Bryan Snow, played by Bob Saul, hardly gets a look-in as he is forced to change the entire third act to suit the controlling Ray, while assorted actors butcher his melodramatic and poorly-written piece.
Things come to a head on the first night after Ray tries to fire one actress and install another who is not to the leading lady’s taste. The pair soon confront each other in Lorraine’s dressing room, flinging insults which The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker would be proud of.
Coward’s play is about Barrie’s star quality: that “something abstract that is beyond definition and beyond praise” in the words of Ray’s assistant and no-doubt lover, Tony Orford, camped-up nicely by Anthony Houghton.
Today we might call it X Factor and it’s something Coward himself certainly possessed, combining his talents as an actor, playwright, composer, lyricist, painter, author and producer with a legendary wit and repartee.
His plays require an extremely firm grasp of the finer points of humour and comic timing, and this production doesn’t quite hit the heights in its first half.
It doesn’t help to have a half-full house on opening night and an audience so mature ferocious coughing and the high-pitched whine of a malfunctioning hearing aid sometimes drown-out the dialogue.
But things really got going in the second half as Dark Heritage moves to a villa in the Mediterranean and everyone in the actual play started to get their timing.
Coward’s clever script allows what could be a contrived premise of a play within a play to seem natural, conveying all the pettiness and points-scoring which goes with a production where the size of the egos exceed the quality of the writing or the talent of the actors.
The play is also timely in an age in which reality television has severed the link between star quality and actual ability in any field whatsoever. For all Ms Barrie’s pretensions, she is still a good actress.
One cast member does get by on looks alone though, and she is Lola the dog, who plays Lorraine’s pampered little pet Bothwell.
Apparently, Lola just missed out on The Wizard of Oz but thankfully for Cardiff theatre-goers she proved up to the task in her stage debut for director Joe Harmston’s production.
Though the applause at the end was less than rapturous, the cast put on a fun and irreverent piece which, after a shaky start, was carried ably by the star quality of its cast.
Star Quality by Noël Coward is directed by Joe Harmston and stars Liza Goddard, Daniel Casey, Bob Saul and Lola the dog. It is showing tonight at 7.30pm and Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.