Star Quality, King’s Theatre


There is lots of quality but not enough stars to the rather quaint little comedy, based on a Noel Coward short story, which arrives at the King’s this week with Amanda Donohoe in the headline role.

Make no mistake, Donohoe is star material. If her Golden Globe wasn’t enough to prove it, she carries off the role of Lorraine Barrie, a theatrical leading lady, with dignity and decorum.

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The trouble is that neither dignity nor decorum is what this needs, as Miss Barrie (this is post-Second World War luviedom) flounces and manipulates her way through Dark Heritage – the play within the play that is earnest young playwright Bryan Snow’s first commercial offering.

It needs vitriol, an acid wit of sulphuric dimensions and the sort of monumental ego which has merely to purse its lips to make an auditorium tremble in anticipation. These are not qualities possessed by Amanda Donohoe – nor ones her fans would wish her to possess either.

She is not helped by a production that is sold on its Coward background but which, in an adaptation for the stage by Christopher Luscombe, is rather more intent at picking the fluff from its own navel. It is very dry, of course, and provides a fascinating analysis of the theatrical business. But the shining, pithy wit is distinctly lacking.

Daniel Casey steps away from the Midsommer beat of Sergeant Troy to put in a pretty decent turn as Dark Heritage’s director Ray Malcolm. The manoeuvring between director and star is interestingly done. It would have been better to have been entertaining.

For acting of real character and comedic intent – if not outright laughs – you have to look to the power behind the two ego’s thrones. Gay Soper is superb as Barrie’s housekeeper, Norma, while Anthony Houghton gives flashes of savagery and humanity as Ray’s “personal assistant”, Tony.

There are some nice touches from Star Quality’s director Joe Harmston, who uses a relatively large but mostly silent cast to show the process of bringing Dark Heritage from page to stage. However, it would have been better to have included flourishes of real diva-based comedy.

Run ends Saturday.