After being browbeaten by his overbearing wife and mother-in-law, and his spoiled daughter, a man makes the choice to leave his family. When he informs them of his best-laid plans, they are... See full summary »

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(as Noel Coward), (play)
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Cast

Episode cast overview:
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Doris Gow
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Mrs Rockett
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Henry Gow
Prudence Oliver ...
Elsie Gow
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Storyline

After being browbeaten by his overbearing wife and mother-in-law, and his spoiled daughter, a man makes the choice to leave his family. When he informs them of his best-laid plans, they are astonished, because now they must learn to fend for themselves. Written by Steven LaVigne

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Comedy

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Release Date:

12 May 1991 (UK)  »

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Scratch that fumed oak surface, there are gems to be found
16 January 2017 | by (Melbourne, Australia) – See all my reviews

Anthony Newley is absolutely superb as Henry Gow in this rare TV presentation of Coward's "unpleasant comedy", playing opposite ex-wife (and series star) Joan Collins as Doris. Joan Sims plays Henry's mother in law.

I write this review as both an appraisal of the TV production and as a set of thoughts and guidelines for any actor fortunate enough, as I was, to have the opportunity to appear in this wonderfully economical play. I played the part of Henry in provincial amateur theater in Victoria, Australia in 1992, a year after the TV production... nowhere within miles of the mastery of Newley, but gaining a sound understanding of the essence and possible motivation behind the story.

The play is set in a Clapham dining room in two 10-15 minute halves, the first at breakfast time, the second around 7-8pm on the same day. Henry remains virtually mute at breakfast while the three females of the household (grandmother, mother and daughter) either whine, snap, gossip, "wrangle" (to quote Henry) or high- horse in an alarmingly familiar fashion. Coward sets up a domestic scene of utterly cringe-worthy realness, coupled with the dramatic tension of a male on-set presence who is wordless throughout the whole ordeal.

In the second half, the revelations slowly unfold. Henry arrives home late (explained away as overtime) as the girls are heading out to the pictures. It then transpires that the steadfastly dry Henry has had a couple before returning home (it's hinted in the first half that he did the same thing the previous night), sufficient Dutch courage now acquired to unveil to them all his shocking future plans.

Henry as a character in a sense blooms and moves through various levels of intensity as the play progresses, but always with the utmost justification for his on stage actions and stated intentions which are perfectly expressed through Coward's careful rhythm and structure. An audience is left in no doubt as to his means and motivation, but equally importantly are at ease with the fate that faces his wife and daughter.

The play is one big dramatic build up to a single and simple outcome - a man deserting his wife and daughter. But the intricacies and the underhandedness - on both sides - that have led to this are the true captivating elements of this play.

As a performer in rehearsal I was confronted by two main obstacles. A leading lady who hated her character so much that she could barely play her, and a total lack of understanding of Henry's reasons for wanting out. With regard to the latter, my wonderful director Richard encouraged me to consider Henry in a different light.

His view was that Henry had found someone else and was running away to be with them. This is never presented in the play, not even as an accusation by Dorrie. And this in itself makes this motivation all the more plausible... particularly when the possibility that that love interest may in fact be another man is considered. The closer I looked the more clues I found. He has been "out" the night before with someone he sheepishly admits to being Charlie Henderson. He has not only secretly stashed £572 over ten years, but has changed his name! He leaves the house at the end, to head where? No hotel or room is mentioned. The omissions are telling. Coward's wont to observe people and create stories around them, the inspiration for many of his plays, is almost definitely in evidence here. It is not at all a stretch, particularly given the circles in which Coward moved, to imagine he would have known a homosexual man, trapped into a loveless marriage and spawning a child, to later desert his wife and simply disappear. In true Coward fashion, to then connect all the dots of the back story and make a play out of it. And not just a play - a "how to" for any similarly placed audience members!

Try not to watch Newley in this role before playing the part yourself. His grasp of Henry is daunting. Explore the quiet revolt welling in Henry, his dulled being so downtrodden over so many years that he can barely celebrate the extraordinary achievement of extricating himself from his horrendous home life. The play is from a time and a world that doesn't exist anymore, where desertion was criminal, homosexuality even more so. I believe Coward was celebrating the bravery of someone he knew, or at least knew of, and masterfully veiled the situation in this stunning and shocking little comedy.


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