I Went to a Marvellous Party at the Cafe de Paris, London.
Like Noel Coward I too went to a marvellous party and the theme of the party was the Master himself – for it was his words and music that formed the cabaret.
His play, Blithe Spirit, has enjoyed a successful run in the West End with Dame Angela Lansbury giving a knock-out performance as Madame Arcati. Her fellow performer, the indefatigable Janie Dee, came up with the idea to hold a charity dinner and cabaret that celebrated Coward and that Lansbury should be guest of honour. She then cajoled fellow cast and company members, together with a couple of special guests, to provide the entertainment. So, as soon as the curtain came down at the Gielgud Theatre, glad rags were donned and they hot footed it to the Cafe de Paris where desert was just being finished.
When Lansbury made her entrance down the ornate staircase, the room rose to their feet and applauded long and loud before belting out the lyrics to ‘Mame’. We had been rehearsed earlier under the direction of the ebullient Christopher Biggins. It was he who opened the proceedings by reading Coward’s poem ‘The Boy Actor’, recalling his childhood acting days.
A word of warning was issued when the full company came on stage to instruct Mrs Worthington not to put her daughter on the stage. Luckily for us, the delectable Dee’s mother ignored such advice, thus allowing the actress to deliver the plaintive ‘Someday I’ll Find You’.
Comedy followed as Simon Jones marched on in khaki shorts and sun hat to remind us what ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ had in common. Sanity returned with Sara Lawn’s ‘You Were There’.
One of the delights of the recent production of Blithe Spirit has been the comic performance of Patsy Ferran. Having already proved that she has a talent to amuse, the actress had the opportunity to show off her musical talent with the wistful ‘If Love Were All’.
An amusing monologue followed in which Charles Edwards played stooge to Melissa Woodbridge as a gushing fan addressing a famous actor, only to find out he was not who she thought he was.
Surprise guest Imelda Staunton, referring to the background she shared with Lansbury, sang – unaccompanied – the Irish folk song ‘The Water is Wide’.
Hugh Osborne had fun as he introduced us to ‘Nina’ (from Argentina) and her anti-terpsichorean attitude – she wouldn’t even begin the beguine! While Richard Southgate posed, with great feeling, the question ‘Why Do the Wrong People Travel’.
Jemima Rooper, superb as the mischievous Elvira in Blithe Spirit, continued in the same vein as she moved teasingly among the male diners to tell them that she was ‘Mad About the Boy’ – only to reveal that the object of her obsession was still Charles Edwards. It fell to Serena Evans to enlighten us as to the antics that took place at the marvellous party that she went to – a comic delight.
Another surprise guest was Barry Humphries (as himself and not as his alter ego – although he did have to point out that he became a Dame long before Miss Lansbury). His contribution was new lyrics to ‘A Bachelor Gay’ which cleverly covered the highlights of Lansbury’s career. In particular he mentioned her triumphs as Rose (Gypsy) and Mrs Lovett (Sweeny Todd) – both parts he had long coveted and would love to play.
The full company took to the stage for the finale and sent us on our way with ‘I’ll See You Again’.
The evening was a fantastic, unique experience that made one thankful and privileged to have been there.