at Twilight by NoŽl Coward (1988). Dir. David
Johnston. Perf. Michael Denison, Dulcie
Gray, Jill Bennett. BBC Radio 4 Extra,
15 March 2015. BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b055jzjh
by the fact
that it was the last play that Coward ever performed on the London stage in the
mid-Sixties, A Song at Twilight has
distinct echoes of Oscar Wilde in terms of content and form. Sir Hugo Latymer
(Michael Denison), unhappily
married to his German wife Hilde (Jill Bennett), receives a visit from old
flame Carlotta Gray (Dulcie Gray). They
exchange familiar platitudes, until Carlotta reveals that she has in her
possession some love-letters written by Sir Hugo in his young days to his
(male) lover Perry Sheldon, who has since died.
We learn that it was Hugo’s self-interest that contributed to Perry’s
death; Carlotta threatens to make Hugo’s private life public by giving the
letters to a biographer. The two of them
argue over the implications of that decision; Hilde returns; and the play ends
with a soft center.
subject has distinct
echoes of Lady Windermere’s Fan, only
this time Hugo is a far less attractive character than Lady Windermere. For
the first time in his career Coward is
prepared to discuss in public the issue of homosexuality, in line with the
changing theatrical climate of the time.
Yet it is not so much Hugo’s sexuality that renders him unattractive,
but his relentless self-interest. A
cheerfully affable public figure, in private he is so wrapped up in himself
that he does not understand the damage he has done to those closest to him.
speaking A Song at Twilight also contains Wildean
echoes, with the familiar cut-and-thrust of witty repartee between the three
protagonists. As the action progresses,
however, so the tone grows much darker as Coward – for one of the few times
during his dramatic career – casts off the veneer of being a ‘beautiful person’
and tries his best to get inside his characters. To a large extent the experiment
pays off: we
understand that Hugo hasn’t learned anything, despite his emotional ordeal, and
that the two women in his life will continue to bend over backwards to ensure
his spiritual and physical well-being.
Patriarchy lives and rules untrammelled in the Coward universe.