Volume Four of Noël Coward's plays contains a selection of Coward's plays from the thirties and forties which includes Blithe Spirit, a comedy that centres around the spirit medium Madame Arcati. The play that mocks sudden death was produced at precisely the moment when bombs were bringing it to Britain "I shall ever be grateful, for the almost psychic gift that enabled me to write Blithe Spirit in five days during one of the darkest years of the war." The play was for years the longest-running comedy in the history of British theatre. Present Laughter follows the life of Garry Essendine, a world-weary, middle-aged projection of the dilettante, debonair persona - self-obsessed and dressing-gowned who struts through the play like an educated peacock. It is a comedy about the 'theatricals' that Noël best knew and loved, and was originally a star vehicle for himself. It is the closest to an autobiographical play that Coward ever wrote.
This Happy Breed is a saga of a lower middle-class family; and three shorter pieces fromTonight at 8.30 - is a farce set in the South of France, and serves as an oblique tribute to Frederick Lonsdale; The Astonished Heart is about the decay of a psychiatrist's mind through personal sexual obsession. Red Peppers, which closes the volume, was a cynical tribute to the lost music halls of the First World War.
About the author
Noël Coward was born in 1899 in Teddington, Middlesex. He made his name as a playwright with The Vortex (1924), in which he also appeared. His numerous other successful plays included Fallen Angels (1925), Hay Fever (1925), Private Lives (1933), Design for Living (1933) and Blithe Spirit (1941). During the war he wrote screenplays such as Brief Encounter (1944) and In Which We Serve (1942). In the fifties he began a new career as a cabaret entertainer. He published volumes of verse and a novel (Pomp and Circumstance, 1960), two volumes of autobiography and four volumes of short stories: To Step Aside (1939), Star Quality (1951), Pretty Polly Barlow (1964) and Bon Voyage (1967). He was knighted in 1970 and died three years later in Jamaica.
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