Chichester Festival Theatre
Opening Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2023 summer festival is a fairly neglected early work from Noel Coward. It is now 50 years since his death, and The Vortex was the playwright’s first major success, even starring in it himself. Director Daniel Raggett has stripped the play right back and after nearly a decade brings his own unique interpretation of this drama that portrays such an intense tortuous mother/son relationship.
Set in the roaring 20’s, rich socialite Florence Lancaster struggles in her self-delusion to convince herself she is still young and adored by all. Currently dating a man young enough to be her son, she is alarmed when her own son Nicky returns early from Paris with a fiancée in tow. The fallout is catastrophic as secrets are revealed and accusations fly that “swirl around in a vortex of beastliness”.
Joanna Scotcher’s set design and meticulously choreographed scene changes are extremely effective. The rich palette of cluttered furnishings gradually diminishing to a bare stage.
Some fine support comes from Isabella Laughland as fiancée Bunty Mainwaring and Sean Delaney playing Florence’s latest conquest Tom Veryan but the night clearly belongs to real life mother and son, multi-award winner Lia Williams and Joshua James working together for the first time. Lia’s level of intensity as the charismatic, selfish and manipulative former beauty is superb. While Joshua’s portrayal of her troubled decadent son is riveting. Capturing the toxic, complicated insecurities as the shocking revelations ensue, these two give a masterclass and performances of great skill and emotion in their character interaction.
This powerful and compelling destruction of their fragile facades as this dysfunctional family whirl out of control into all consuming chaos, comes highly recommended and plays until 20th May 2023.
Reviewer: Jill Lawrie