IT'S THE climactic scene, in which Noël Coward's mismatched lovers are at loggerheads. On this morning after an embarrassing night before, they're doing their damnedest to remain civil. Or, at least, as civil as they can be when two of them are not speaking and the other two have been dumped on their honeymoons. In its blend of sexual confusion and social anxiety, it's the missing link between A Midsummer Night's Dream and Abigail's Party.
Director Martin Duncan makes the situation more excruciating still by forcing them, cheek to cheek, on to the same couch. Banging elbows and knocking knees over a cup of coffee, they give their inner awkwardness an outer shape.
Half-comic, half-horrific, the scene encapsulates the play's most telling line: "Has it ever struck you that flippancy might cover a very real embarrassment?" This is not simply a comedy about posh people and their witty aphorisms, but one in which nobody is in control of their emotions.
It opens at the foot of Francis O'Connor's vertiginous art-deco hotel, bathed in the warm light of an encroaching dusk, where John Hopkins as Elyot Chase cuts a figure somewhere between the suave prettiness of Simon Cowell and the square-jawed machismo of Clark Kent. He's a cool sophisticate with a violent temper.
As the Titania to his Oberon, Kirsty Besterman brilliantly captures the performative quality of his ex-wife Amanda, switching by the line from dry to flirtatious, witty to vitriolic. She manipulates others just as her mood-swings manipulate her.
There's always a danger Sybil and Victor can seem bland in comparison, but Emily Woodward and Ben Deery give gutsy renditions that, for all their middlebrow values, show them to be their own people. Grasping the rhythm and melody of the lines as well as the beats in between them, all the performances are of a very high order indeed.