Click here for the casting notes on the Sewell Barn website.
This show is a revue. It was a format that was especially popular between the 1920s and 1950s, and tended to include a fairly equal mix of the solo and the group, the sung and the spoken. Coward was a noted expert at this sort of show, having created several himself in between his plays, operettas and musicals. Cowardy Custard was created not by the Master himself, but with his input and blessing, and this show (together with Oh, Coward! in similar vein) were both first seen about a year before Coward's death in 1973.
The show has no storyline as such, but it does follow roughly chronologically the development of Coward's own career, as composer, playwright and performer. There are several monologues and some extracts from his plays, all either explicitly or implicitly autobiographical.
The original cast recording of this show (1972, as performed at the Mermaid Theatre, with a cast which included Patricia Routledge and Una Stubbs) is in fact not a good guide to our show.
To start with, it differs in many respects - the items included (or not), the style of performance, and the distribution of items among the cast. Many of the songs are in very different (sometimes inappropriate) keys from the originals; and (forgive us) many are performed in a heavy-handed way that borders on pastiche. There is a lot of enthusiastic overplaying which is, frankly, entirely unnecessary; Coward's words and music are of high enough quality to carry themselves without use of a sledgehammer.
Our aim is somewhat different, as explained below.
Yes, we know that Coward's performance style was clipped and precise. It was not, however, insincere, and should not be portrayed as such. Elegant, clear, intelligent, certainly; two-dimensional and caricatured, certainly not.
Distribution of songs
The script and score give the lion's share of numbers to four performers (artists O, P, R & X, as designated), leaving six more with just a few opportunities to shine, and yet two more (poor W and Y) as clearly 'chorus', there only to frame the performances of the 'leads'. Needless to say, this will not be our approach. Every performer will have their 'showstopper', everyone will take part in 'chorus' numbers, everyone will have appropriate items to showcase their talents. In other words, please ignore entirely what it says in the script, because it's likely to bear little or no relation to what we give you to do!
Note: there are traditionally one or two men in this show who perform all Coward's spoken words (and many of his key songs). We aim to emphasise that his words are being quoted and that he is not simply being impersonated; we're likely to have at least two performers of each sex taking care of the autobiographical stuff.
Number of performers
Relating to the above: the twelve performers as shown in the script is the absolute maximum we'll cast, and is probably too many. A revue succeeds best when all performers are kept busy but not to the point of exhaustion; our view is that a cast of eight is an ideal number for this show.
However, we're well aware of the difficulties of achieving a balanced cast (men - are you listening?!) and know we may have to adapt. As such, we can work with a minimum of three and a maximum of six of each sex, in various permutations. For example: either equal numbers of men and women, or a number of each sex to balance stage pictures (e.g. 3 men onstage plus male pianist, plus 3, 4 or 6 women).
Age of performers
Again, our 'dream team' would be to run the whole gamut from a playing age of around 20ish (the 'bright young things) to an active 60ish (the old codgers, liberated ladies, and reflective older characters). To have a couple in each of those four decades would be ideal. However, please take this as an indication that most active performers within that age range are likely to have a good chance of being what we're looking for, given the following...
Skills of performers
Singing: able to carry a tune, both solo and group. Anyone who has worked with us on, or seen, any of our workshops, The Shakespeare Revue or Down Among the Wines & Spirits, will know what we mean.
Key words: tuneful and rhythmic.
Characterisation: this is paramount. Revue is all about conveying (much as in the Music Hall) a full story and a rounded character in around three minutes flat. In this show, sometimes you get fifteen seconds.
Key words: timing, comedy, stillness, sincerity, focus.
Movement: the ability to move gracefully and precisely, whether simply to create stage pictures or in chorus numbers. We're not talking Strictly standard here, but you do need to be able to put the correct foot forward first - and with aplomb. There are several 'medleys' in this show which involve all performers and quite a bit of movement.
Key words: confidence, rhythm, poise.
Team and solo players: you will have 'big moments'. They might be a ten-minute scene, a three minute song or a thirty-second verse, but they will be showstoppers. And they'll be your moments. Likewise, you'll be taking part in duets, small groups and full cast numbers, supporting soloists or working as a complete team. Nobody is exempt from any of those.
Key words: spotlight, background, support.
Does this all sound too scary? Never tried this sort of style before? Don't worry. As members of our previous casts will hopefully tell you, we're there to direct you and coach you. Revue is not a commonly used format these days; we don't expect you to come as experts in the genre. (If you did, there wouldn't be much for us to do.) Bring your tunefulness, your comic timing, your rhythm and your enthusiasm to the table, and we'll do the rest.