RECEIVING its first production on an Irish stage in what we now recognise as post- Celtic Tiger Ireland, Noël Coward’s breakthrough work encapsulates the fall from dizzying heights of London’s bohemian set. While the play strives for the drama that defines a work such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Coward’s play is laced with his savage wit, taking the form of catty dismissals of characters (“Poor Clara: she eternally labours under the delusion that she really matters”) courtesy of Pauncefort “Pawnie” Quentin (played by Mark O’Reagan).
There is, of course, the obligatory, fabulous dance sequence- jazz hands and all- choreographed by Philip Connaughton, though, in a twist, the drug- addled anti- hero of The Vortex, Nicky Lancaster (played by Rory Fleck Byrne) dances manically and out of time with the rest of the party, which tells its own story.
Set designer Paul O’Mahony’s round set is symmetrical with all of the images and the themes that Coward’s play raises: the play’s title, of course; the social circle of London’s elite; the glasses in which cocktails and wine are swirled; the meeting, again, of the Tom and Bunty; the circle of substance abuse and addiction.
Adding to the visual aesthetics of this complete production is Philip Stewart’s sound design and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting design, both of which provide added punch to the production. Cutting each scene are flashbulbs- effects, which attempt to summon the nostalgic charm inherent in any jazz age- era production, but also to give the effect that the moments in the play are frozen in time, much like the play itself.
Just as the success or failure of a production such as A Streetcar Named Desire hinges on the quality of the performance of the actress playing Blanch Du Bois, a play like The Vortex will always be judged on the strength of the performance by the actor playing Nicky Lancaster; in this respect, The Gate’s production of The Vortex is success. Rory Fleck Byrne’s compelling performance as Nicky Lancaster is well- paced and nuanced, the subtext beneath Nicky’s neediness towards his mother and his sham engagement towards Bunty clear to the uniformed audience member (“I’ve grown up all wrong”, utters Nicky, in one of the play’s more memorable scenes).
Following on from The Gate’s successful runs of The Threepenny Opera and Pride and Prejudice was never going to be easy, but this production of Coward’s great play feels definitive and precise, lifting its audience up into the dizzying heights only to be brought back down through the crashing lows, much like Cowards anti- hero.
Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: The Gate Theatre
Written by: Noël Coward
Directed by: Annabelle Comyn
Cast: Fiona Bell, Rory Fleck Byrne, Simon Coury, Peter Gaynor, Mark O’Regan, Susannah Harker, Andrea Kelly