Star Quality

Previewed 23 October 2001, Opened 29 October 2001, Closed 23 March 2002 at the Apollo Theatre in London

The West End stage premiere of Noel Coward's comedy Star Quality starring Penelope Keith and directed by Christopher Luscombe.

In his wickedly funny final play, Noel Coward takes us behind the scenes of a new West End production. Conjuring up a wonderfully authentic world of talent and treachery, Coward creates a gallery of unforgettable characters: temperamental leading lady, ruthless director, jaded old troupers and, caught somewhere between them all, an innocent young playwright. From the tentative rehearsal to the triumphant opening night, the clash of egos becomes increasingly and hilariously bloody. But what emerges from the mayhem is a startling evocation of that most elusive gift of all - star quality.

"We're putting on a play, not fighting a bloodly war. Why can't people in the theatre behave like normal human beings?"

Written as a short story in 1951 and turned into an (unproduced) play in 1967, this is the first time a fully-staged, large scale production of Noel Coward's typically sophisticated and witty comedy has ever been mounted.

The cast stars Penelope Keith, Russell Boulter and Una Stubbs along with Peter Cellier, Nick Flecher, Nick Waring and Marjorie Yates and including Magnus Hastings, Graham Ashe, Andrew Coppin, Helen Dorward and Fiz Marcus. Adapted and directed by Christopher Luscombe with designs by Tim Goodchild and lighting by Rick Fisher.

"With Over the Moon at the Old Vic, and Kiss Me, Kate and The Royal Family opening this week, the theatre’s prime concern right now seems to be the theatre. But there’s nothing wrong with that when the result is enlightening or even just diverting — and Star Quality at the Apollo, the latest West End attempt to show what happens beneath Dame Drama’s skirts, manages to be both... It provides a terrific if slightly improbable part for Penelope Keith... She rises to the play’s prime demand: which is to tantalise, soft-soap, manipulate and, when she can, dominate everyone in the cast of a play called Dark Heritage." The Times

"Penelope Keith, chief head girl, has returned to the West End after 13 years in a lost play by the master. So this was quite a big evening. And one of laughter, high spirits and sheer theatrical fun... Director Christopher Luscombe has jostled the story and play-draft into a biting little backstage comedy and a superb vehicle for Miss Keith... How wonderful to see her at full belt again as an old-style comedy diva... Miss Keith is truly magnificent. And she is well supported by Marjorie Yates as an hilarious maid-cum-dresser. Peter Cellier as an old reliable and Russell Boulter as the new-breed director. Best of all is Una Stubbs as am incompetent sidekick." The Daily Mail

"It's a play by Noel Coward, or rather a play by Christopher Luscombe (who also directs) based on a short story which Coward published in 1951 and the dramatised version of it which he wrote in the 1960s. The star is a Shaftesbury Avenue legend (Penelope Keith); her quality is put to the test when she agrees to appear in a new play by an unknown young writer and finds herself in conflict with a leather-jacketed, Northern-accented director (Russell Boulter). Keith is often very entertaining, though in her own Home Counties style, which I don't think is the West End style Coward had in mind. There are some excellent supporting performances and some strong individual scenes. But the period sense is wobbly, and the play within a play sounds so absurd that it is hard to feel that there is as much at stake in the power-struggles surrounding it as Coward would like us to believe." The Sunday Telegraph

Star Quality in London at the Apollo Theatre previewed from 23 October 2001, opened on 29 October 2001 and closed on 23 March 2002