CurtainUp Reviews
My Life With Noël Coward
by Graham Payn with Barry Day--With Coward's Never Before Published Theatre Writings

Noël Coward left a rich legacy of music, plays and personal diaries. According to Graham Payn, his friend and lover for thirty years as well as his literary executor and author (with Barry Day) of My Life With Noël Coward, dozens of productions of Coward's plays are currently on stage or in preparation somewhere in the world. These have assumed a certain pecking order, the top three being Blithe Spirit,. Private Lives and Fallen Angel the top three. That's not to take away from the pull of other Coward plays. A revival of Hay Fever during last summer's Berkshire Theatre Festival season was a sold out before it opened. Present Laughter which will start previewing as this review is being posted has already created a buzz. making the just published paperback edition of this memoir Coward particularly timely.

Besides providing those planning to see Present Laughter with a wealth of facts and comments about the play, My Life With Noël Coward is a good read, generously sprinkled as it is with anecdotal material and photographs. True to the book's title, Payn lets the reader get to know him as well as Coward, but, unlike a lot of actors when they take pen in hand, he exercises admirable restraint, never veering from the memoir's focus-- Noël Coward. He applies the same restraint to the wealth of theatrical icons who played important professional and personal parts in the Coward Saga. When Payn discusses someone famous it's because that person played more than a walk-on part in Coward's life. Thus the celebrities who appear in these pages serve to enrich this portrait of a multi-talented, complex personality. In turn, we see Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Maggie Smith, Beatrice Lillie, Laurence Olivier, The Lunts, Mary Martin and many other luminaries through the sharp lens of Coward's private, after-the-party observations. All told we come away from this book with a newfound admiration for Coward as a giving as well as an immensely gifted man. And while he is the star of the enterprise, getting to know and like Payn is an added pleasure.

Interesting as the biographical and anecdotal materials are, two of the major assets of My Life With Noël Coward are Payn's comments on his responsibilities as literary executor in chapter 14 and the newly added "Book Three" which contains Coward's never before published theater writings.

Since this review is being written as Present Laughter goes into previews at the Walter Kerr, here are some pertinent facts and comments pertaining to it:

In case you can't find My Life With Noël Coward at your local library or book store, the Payn memoir, as well as some other Coward books can be found at the internet's Amazon book store.

My Life With Noël Coward
The Noel Coward Diaries also by Graham Payn
Noel & Cole, The Sophisticates by Stephen Citron--a music expert analyzes many Coward and Cole Porter songs

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