The Young Idea runs at the Genesian Theatre from May 4-June 8 2013. By Noel Coward, directed by Laura Genders.
Genesian Theatre’s production of The Young Idea is a very enjoyable, if somewhat unadventurous, interpretation of the play that kickstarted Noel Coward’s career. It is the theatrical equivalent of sherbet: frothy, fun, and sweet, if ultimately a little insubstantial.
This play, written when Coward was 22, is the story of siblings Sholto (Lachlan Edmonds-Munro) and Gerda (Anita Donovan). They are the children of George (Matt Jones) and Jennifer (Kerry Day), who have been divorced for a very long time. Jennifer, a novelist, lives in on the continent, while George lives a peaceful life in the English countryside with his second wife Cicely (Dearbhla Hannigan), judiciously ignoring her numerous love affairs with young men, including Roddy (Carlin Hurdis). Sholto and Gerda are determined to reunite their parents, and are prepared to go to any lengths to do so. Given that this is Coward, it is hardly surprising that hilarity ensues.
This is not Coward’s best play by any means, but it is still great fun. From a literary history perspective, it’s fascinating to see the seeds that would one day grow into Hay Fever and Private Lives (see here for my review of Belvoir St's Private Lives last year). George and Jennifer are the prototypes for Elyot and Amanda, two people that can’t stand each other but ultimately can’t stand to be without each other. Coward clearly learned over his career not to mask the truly interesting story – the relationship between George and Jennifer, in this case – behind other, less interesting facades: we do not learn very much about Sholto and Gerda as people during the course of play, other than that they desperately want their parents to hook up again. If we read Sholto and Gerda as the protagonists, The Young Idea basically becomes the Gossip Girl of the 1920s, a drama set against a hyper-privileged society, with Sholto and Gerda as the prototypes for Chuck and Blair, manipulating everyone around them to get what they want. (Thankfully, unlike Chuck and Blair, Sholto and Gerda do not hook up. Given the whole sibling thing, that would be weird.)
Laura Genders has directed a deft, clever production. It would be easy to let the production grow static, relying on Coward’s writing to speak for itself, but that does not happen here. There are some visual gags in here that are screamingly funny – there is one moment with Claud (David Ross) in the first act which I won’t spoil here that is absolutely side-splitting. While this show is not terribly ambitious, it is dynamic. Genders has drawn some great performances from her actors. While I found Edmonds-Munro and Donovan as Sholto and Gerda a little too doe-eyed at times – I wanted to see a bit more of a differentiation in the way they acted around other people versus the way they acted when they were alone – I really enjoyed the performances of Jones, Day, and Hannigan as George and his two wives. Jones was suitably dry, Day cutting in response, and Hannigan’s acerbic portrayal of Cicely was great fun.
The one thing that I did find a little puzzling at times were the costumes – two minor characters appeared to be in deep mourning in the first act for no apparent textual reason. But this is a very minor quibble. The Young Idea is in no way experimental, nor does it push any boundaries, but it is a whole heap of fun. It won’t change your life, but it will make you laugh. I had a great evening seeing it at the Genesian. Recommended.