Noel Coward pp 17-47 | Cite as

Society’s Hero

  • Frances Gray
Part of the Macmillan Modern Dramatists book series


The image of the newly successful Noel Coward — one he was not above fostering — is enshrined in a photograph in the Sketch published during the run of The Vortex. He languishes in an elaborate bed wearing silk pyjamas, all the props required by any drawing-room comedy — telephone, cigarettes — at his side, over the caption ‘Noel the Fortunate.’ The reviews of The Vortex were guaranteed box office: ‘A study of rottenness, of extravagant misery among extravagant pleasures’ said The Times.1a For part of society at least the play was the twenties as they saw them. The second act curtain, in which the ageing actress explodes into hysteria as her lover leaves for a younger woman while her son plays a mounting jazz crescendo on the piano, was one of those moments that both shocked and satisfied the audience as Nora’s slamming of the door in The Doll’s House had done for a previous generation. It seemed a product of its time thrown up as naturally and as spontaneously as a champagne bubble, and Coward was confident enough of its reception to set a new theatrical precedent: the cast did not take the customary end-of-act curtain call but allowed the tension to remain unbroken till the end of the play, when, of course, the applause was tremendous.


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2 Society’s Hero

  1. 1.
    The Oxford Book of 20th Century Verse, Ed. Larkin, OUP 1973, p. 320. la. The Times, 27 November 1924.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Quoted in Richard Findlater, Banned! A Study of Theatrical Censorship in Britain, Macgibbon and Kee 1967, p. 77.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Foreword, Mander and Mitchenson, Musical Comedy, Davies, 1969.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    How I Write my Songs reprinted Noel Coward and His Friends ed. Lesley, Payn and Morley, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 67.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ivor Brown, The Rise and Fall of the Matinee Idol, ed. Curtis, New English Library 1976, p. 35.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Quoted Cole Lesley, The Life of Noel Coward, Cape 1976, p. 434.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Mander and Mitchenson, A Theatrical Companion to Coward Rockliff 1957, p. 145.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Present Indicative Heinemann 1937, p. 121.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Play Parade II Heinemann 1939, p. ix.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Wilfred Owen, Poems, Chatto and Windus, 1920. Preface.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Alan Jenkins, The Twenties, Heinemann 1974, p. 5.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Owen, op. cit., The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, p. 57.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies, Eyre Methuen 1961, p. 129.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Quoted Margaretson, The Long Party, Saxon House, Farnborough, 1974, p. 52.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    James Agate, Saturday Review, 17 February 1923.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Play Parade I, Heinemann 1934, p. xi.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    The Author’s Reply to his Critics Introduction to Three Plays Benn, 1925, p. ix.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Quoted Charles Castle, Noel, W. H. Allen 1974, p. 65.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    St. John Irvine, Observer, 27 November 1927.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Play Parade II Heinmann 1939, p. ix.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    New York Times 8 December 1925.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    John Russell Taylor, The Rise and Fall of the Well-Made Play, Methuen 1967, p. 139.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Frances Gray 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frances Gray
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SheffieldUK

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