The Vortex at Chichester Festival Theatre – Reviews

Reviews are coming in for Chichester Festival Theatre‘s revival of Noël Coward’s play The Vortex.

Directed by Daniel Raggett (Accidental Death of an Anarchist), The Vortex runs in Chichester until 20 May 2023.

The play stars real-life mother and son Lia Williams (The Crown, Mary Stuart) and Joshua James (Platonov) as Florence and Nicky Lancaster.

Other cast include Priyanga Burford (Industry) as Helen, Killing Eve star Sean Delaney as Tom, Jessica Alade as Clara, Richard Cant as Pawnie, Hugh Ross as David, Evan Milton as Bruce, and Esme Scarborough as Preston.

100 years old next year, The Vortex is one of Noel Coward’s earliest works, and is a witty and stinging portrait of the darkness beneath the glittering surface of the Jazz Age.

The Vortex creative team also includes set design by Joanna Scotcher, costume design by Evie Gurney, lighting design by Zoe Spurr, music and sound design by Giles Thomas, movement by Michela Meazza and casting by Lotte Hines CDG.

Read reviews from the critics, including The Times, The Guardian and more.

More reviews to follow.

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The Vortex reviews

The Times
★★★

"An uneven take on Noël Coward’s breakthrough play"

"... he gifted mother-and-son double act of Lia Williams and Joshua James, acting together for the first time, double down on the psychodrama in Coward’s breakthrough hit from 1924."

"When it works, it works beautifully.... And, indeed, there is much to admire in the way that Daniel Raggett’s brisk 90-minute production makes some of these confrontations feel freshly minted."

"Williams aces the seriousness, but has a light touch when needed. James impresses as the manboy who both wants to break free from his mum and needs more from her. Yet while there is greatness here, that greatness could take a few more tea breaks. This is not a play that has the substance or the suffering of Ibsen’s Ghosts, yet some of it is played at that pitch. In digging out the depth in this tragicomedy Raggett and company undercook the comedy."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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The Guardian
★★★★

"Noël Coward’s swirling jazz age psychodrama"

"Lia Williams and her son Joshua James make a scintillating double act in a resonant revival of the 1924 hit"

"Coward wrote his first hit play, savaging the jazz age’s empty heart, after a life-changing trip to New York taught him the value of pacy dialogue. Daniel Raggett’s production wastes not a second, Florence’s decadent circle flitting around her like wasps at a picnic."

"... even for the time this fast set’s reaction to cocaine surprises, recalling the tone of a public safety advert. Williams and James offer a scintillating double act, however, and as the quips die away shades of Ibsen stalk a swirling psychodrama that contrasts the characters’ frantic energy with their lackadaisical morals."

Emma John, The Guardian
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The Telegraph
★★★★

"Fabulous new life for Noël Coward’s scandalous drama"

"This staging of the play that made Coward famous is a rich tapestry that wonderfully veers between camp cattiness and heartfelt melodrama"

"... what Lia Williams and her hugely talented son Joshua James achieve together in this production of The Vortex at Chichester Festival Theatre is nothing short of sensational: an entrancing chemistry that catalyses Noël Coward’s script to capture something wonderfully profound about the co-existence of conflict and love in a dysfunctional family."

"There is something irresistible about how these true-life relatives catch eyes as this dynamic plays out, and there is a delicacy to Daniel Raggett’s direction as he subtly steers the duo through emotions ranging from empathy to violence."

"Towards the end, the production can feel a little heavy-handed, with comedic moments required to balance the action instead repressed to leave us with a climax that is perhaps a touch too melodramatic. But half a century after the death of its author, this production firmly reminds us that Coward is not simply a writer of light comedy, but a masterful social observer."

Nick Ferris, The Telegraph
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The Observer
★★★

"Lia Williams and son ignite Noël Coward at his darkest"

"Now Daniel Raggett directs Coward’s most startling play. Though awkward around the edges, it features a dazzling central duo: Joshua James and Lia Williams"

"Raggett’s emphatic production is not quick enough to make the revelations and accusations really surprising. Yet Williams and James set the stage alight. He moves with a lassitude that at first seems nonchalance but becomes more saturnine as despair and addiction take over..."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Sunday Times
★★

"Daniel Raggett’s production contrives to feel both rushed and leaden. Early pearls of flighty, flapper-era dialogue are lost in a noisy canter. Later moments of anguish between the solipsistic Lancasters ponderously echo Hamlet’s scene with Gertrude."

"Williams, as ever, is fluent and magnetic as the acidic, adulterous Florence. A distaste for the moneyed class is evident from this production, but I’m afraid Coward’s self-absorption lost my vote long before the end."

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
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📷 Main photo: The Vortex by Noel Coward at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Helen Murray

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