If you view them through the prism of “normality” and imagine that such behaviour is (a) grotesquely exaggerated and (b) dreadfully self-indulgent, you laugh at them as you shudder, with a little frisson of thankfulness that nobody you know behaves so badly.
If you know people like them, you are inclined to laugh with them, and are glad for them when the inherently less interesting and more conventional quartet of social-climbing vamp Myra Arundel, pompous diplomat Richard Greatham, dim neurotic flapper Jackie Coryton and bumbling muscle-bound Sandy Tyrell head off, leaving the Bliss family to what they do best, admiring, criticising, entertaining and baiting each other.
Falling into the latter category, I found Lindsay Posner’s production at Bath Theatre Royal until 6th September, to be utterly delightful, with just the right blend of appalling behaviour and seductive charm from Felicity Kendal as Judith, with excellent supporting performances, including Mossie Smith as her devoted dresser and long suffering cook-housekeeper (no-one else would work for her!)
Felicity Kendal could have been born to play Judith – she brings this charming, attractive, witty, winsome, preposterous semi-retired actress to life with great style, that famously cracked voice soaring and teasing irresistibly. Simon Shepherd as David is handsome enough that you readily believe that adoring fans beat a path to his door and vamps want to add him to their list of conquests.
Edward Franklin took time to bring Simon to life but by the second act he had nailed the capricious energies of the character. He was well-matched by Alice Orr-Ewing as his equally mercurial sister Sorel, who insists she is trying to be more “normal” but failing predictably.
Among the quartet of house-guests, Celeste Dodwell stood out as the pathetic Jackie and Michael Simkins showed brilliant comic timing as the dull diplomat whose foreign exploits have not equipped him to tangle with such exotic creatures as the Bliss mother and daughter.
This is Coward at his sunniest and funniest and brings a first-class and varied Bath summer season to a delicious close.