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COWARDY CUSTARD
by
Gerald Frow, Alan Strachan and Wendy Toye

Dates 6th-8th April 2001
Producer Richard Smith
Musical Director Roger Symes
Choreographer Kathy Routley

ABOUT COWARDY CUSTARD

'Cowardy Custard' had a triumphant first night at the Mermaid Theatre, London on July 10, 1972 and ran for a year. Of all the affectionate tributes paid to 'The Master' after his seventieth birthday celebrations In 1970, this was the most successful.

Collaborators Gerald Frow and Alan Strachan were faced with the formidable task of sifting through fifty years of Cowardian material: plays, musicals, operettas, songs, sketches, poems, press cuttings, autobiographical and previously unpublished work. The result was an attempt to reveal 'something of the man' behind the selfmade, svelte image. “We wanted to show the struggle that so many people appeared to think he'd never had....the impoverished gentility of his suburban background ... and a young Noel   "dreaming of the future, reaching for the crown".

For those young enough to have missed Coward the first time around, the show came as a revelation in !he freshness of the famous pieces, the delight of less familiar material, and the continued relevance of Coward's powerful satire. A successful recording and book based on the Mermaid production followed acclaim from critics, the public, and the arch-entertainer himself.

Coward was no exponent of dry intellectualism, or of powerful or subtle moral ideas. He wrote playfully to Nancy Mitford: 'I am just mad about books, and you being so brainy and all...might give me some ideas, which I may say would be bitterly resented’. His writing echoes Restoration Comedy, Sheridan, Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

Sir Noel himself proposed the title, good naturedly rejecting suggestions such as 'Carry on Coward', ‘The Cream of Coward’ ('that would be asking for trouble'), or ‘This is Noel Coward’ (too near "This was Noel Coward" ). No-one much cared for ‘Cowardy Custard' either, but the phrase stuck.

 

CCProgramme.jpg (207437 bytes)

Programme cover design by Paul Stallard

RECIPE FOR CUSTARD
a note by Sir Bernard Miles

The Mermaid Theatre began considering its contribution to the 1972 City of London Festival in the early Summer of 1971. There were many different ideas at that time, ranging from a proposed commissioned documentary on the City's history to a selection of some of the classic plays with a City background, such as "The Shoemaker's Holiday" and "Eastward Ho!" --- which had given the Mermaid some of its biggest successes in the past. But it was the desire to offer something in a different vein to past presentations which resulted in the decision to stage "Cowardy Custard:, derived from the words and music of the acknowledged "Master" of 20th Century entertainment ---- Sir Noel Coward.

Coward's roots for all his international success and cosmopolitan image, he firmly in London. Born in Teddington just before the beginning of the Century, his autobiographies and poems recall with great affection and wit his upbringing in London's suburbs and his early days struggling to place his talent in the fiercely competitive London theatre of the 1920's. Musically too, London has always been a strong inspiration to Coward ~ songs such as London Pride, London at Night and the London song sequence from his 1960's Broadway musical -The Girl Who Came To Supper" (all included in "Cowardy Custard") show him at his lyrical and musical best.

The show involved many months of preparation; since Coward's output includes over 50 plays, musicals and operettas, at least 250 songs, not to mention sketches, his two autobiographies, plus the occasional poem, short story or novel, the main problem was obviously on.. of selection. Several early meetings with the theatrical custodians, Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, foremost among Coward authorities, provided a tremendous incentive for the research. Two of the show's devisors, Gerald Frow and Alan Strachan, were soon buried in the Coward archives in London, constantly surprised by new or forgotten material, and when Wendy Toye accepted the invitation to direct the production, she added the experience of her previous work with Coward. The 1960's had seen the phenomenon of the "Coward Revival" - in his own lifetime ("Dad's Renaissance" as he called it himself), but his musical talent had been somewhat bypassed, and it is on this that the Mermaid's devisors. concentrated. In the history of 20th Century popular music, only Cole Porter among other composer-lyricists has rivalled Coward's extraordinary range.

The songs in "Cowardy Custard" extend from the archetypal '20's Coward of Poor Little Rich Girl and Dance, Little Lady, the romantic, lyrical mood of his C.B. Cochran musicals such as "Bitter-Sweet", to the strong blues and jazz vein of Mad about the Boy and Twentieth Century Blues, and of course the perennially inventive comic songs (Marvellous Party, Nina, Mrs Worthington etc.). Coward once wrote that the impulse to write songs was born in him, and the show covers half-a-century of composing, from his earliest revue songs to the 1960's Broadway musicals. With such a variety, it is hardly surprising that it includes songs which Coward himself confessed he had almost forgotten having written.

With the script (which links the songs with material from the plays, autobiographies and poems, chosen to reveal unfamiliar aspects of Coward as well as the customary image) in its final form, the Mermaid gathered an impressive production team, including Tim Goodchild fresh from "Showboat" and "Gone With The Wind" as designer, and a dazzling cast for the show. Only one thing was missing shortly before rehearsals began - a suitable title. A telegram from Coward himself in Jamaica, suggesting "Cowardy Custard", added the final ingredient, and a production initially intended for a limited eight-week season turned out to be one of the most successful shows in the Mermaid's history.

PICTURES FROM THE SHOW

Click on a picture to enlarge it

Cowardy Custard 2001 Opening Medley
"Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?"
Gentlemen's Chorus
Cowardy Custard 2001 "Beatnik Love Affair"
The Company
Cowardy Custard 2001 Scene from "Shadow Play"
Mark Donalds, Patricia Stallard and
Neil Lander Brinkley
Cowardy Custard 2001 Scene from "Present Laughter"
Neil Lander Brinkley and Mark Donalds
Cowardy Custard 2001 Wartime Medley
"London Pride"
The Company
Cowardy Custard 2001 "There Are Bad Times Just
Around the Corner"
Gentlemen's Chorus

Sir Noel Coward

VENUES

6th and 7th April 2001 Purbrook Methodist Church Hall, Stakes Road, Purbrook
8th April 2001 Alexandra Theatre, Bognor Regis
27th June 2002 The Meon Hall, Meonstoke
28th June 2002 The New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
29th June 2002 Merchistoun Hall, Horndean

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Due to its popularity, the Society decided to repeat the show in June 2002, taking in The Meon Hall, Meonstoke, Merchistoun Hall, Horndean and the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

Last updated: 18 March 2009 21:33:36