Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Playing a Coward

Simon Ward in <i>Notes from Noel</i>.

Simon Ward in Notes from Noel.

Notes From Noel
Music and lyrics by Noel Coward and Simon Ward
Saturday, August 10, dinner and show from 7pm.
Teatro Vivaldi Restaurant, Anu Arts Centre

Would-be actors are often told to have an occupation to fall back on during the lean times.

Simon Ward not only took this to heart, he put his other occupation into a show. Notes from Noel is coming to Canberra after seasons in London and Sydney.

''The show is based around the fact I lead two lives: I work as a psychologist and I'm also an actor,'' Ward says.

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The title refers to actor, writer and composer Noel Coward and the idea that when Ward is seeing patients - he specialises in child and adolescent psychology - a ''note from Noel'' is often helpful. For example, Ward has dealt with his share of stage parents and their children and has used Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs Worthington - Coward's comical plea to a delusional mother - a couple of times with parents.

That will be one of the songs he performs in the show, accompanied by John Martin. Ward wants to present a multifaceted view of Coward's talent.

''Most people associate Noel with comic songs ,'' he says.

But some of Coward's songs were poignant and rawly emotional, including Mad About the Boy and If Love Were All.

''He was writing songs about gay love at a time when he could be arrested for it,'' Ward says. ''He often got women to sing his autobiographical songs.''

But the show is also about Ward and the advice he gets out of Noel's songs, including his own musical responses to life, such as Confession, about being a psychologist, and to relationships.

Ward, 33, was married in June and says this gives the show ''a slightly different complexion but a lot of it is still true. There's more depth to it, it makes more sense.''

He was born in Sydney and grew up in Bathurst, where his mother played the organ. His parents had a wide-ranging record collection - including albums of Coward. Ward began acting as a child and, although he trained in psychology, performing is, he says, where his heart is and he wants to make the transition into doing it full-time.

Among other shows, he's played the title role in a pro-am production of The Wizard of Oz and been acquainted onstage with Coward in a production called Noel, Cole & Gertie, playing a role alongside Stuart Maunder and Katie McKee.

This will be his last show in Australia before he returns to Britain to undertake a postgraduate diploma in musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music.

And it couldn't be at a more appropriate place. Teatro Vivaldi is run by Mark Santos and Anthony Hill, who have their own association with Coward.

''We lived in the house in which he lived with his mother from 1912 to 1929: 111 Ebury Street, Belgravia,'' Santos says.

During that time he established himself as a playwright and actor and his credits included The Vortex, Hay Fever and Bitter Sweet.

''He was asked to move out by the neighbours because he had too many parties and he moved out at the age of 29 to a house two streets away.''

Santos and Hill lived there from 1991 to 2001 when it was the Lewis House Hotel and ran it as a boutique establishment catering largely to Americans visiting London.

They were also inspired by the house's history to build up a collection of Coward memorabilia, including clothes and theatre programs. ''A lot of people gave us a lot of the things. We bought a lot of photos and bought his signature for £460,'' Santos says.

When the lease ended, they moved to Canberra when Hill got a job at the Australian National University and established Teatro Vivaldi as a restaurant and performance venue with a Noel Coward room displaying the collection and items from the house.

Much of it was lost when the place was flooded in 2011 but they managed to save some of it, which is still on display.

Teatro Vivaldi opened with a Coward-themed show starring Dennis Olsen and Amanda Muggleton, and Santos says he is glad to have another, to keep up the connection with the man who was fondly dubbed the Master in recognition of his many talents.

Notes from Noel. Tickets $70/$80/$90, depending on seat location. Show only at 8.30pm ($40/ $50/$60). Ph: 6257 2718.


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