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Behind the scenes of Noel Coward's The Vortex at the Rose Theatre
The Vortex, a Noel Coward featuring homosexuality, drugs and a sense of incest was described as ‘un peu shocking’ when it was released in the 1920s and it is no different today.
First performed in 1924, the play follows the relationship between the decadent, drug-addicted Nicky Lancaster and his flamboyant mother, Florence.
Artistic director Stephen Unwin was drawn to the production after the successful stint of Hay Fever – another Noel Coward classic at the Rose.
On the upcoming period drama Unwin says: “What do you do when your mum’s boyfriend is the same age as you are?
"You are a young lad, and your mum who is still married to your dad has a boyfriend your age and then that boyfriend steals your girlfriend – this is a sex and drugs shocker.
"In the 1920s they were really experimenting with it.
“It starts with a mother and son throwing themselves around on a bed. It is a play for adults, but has no nude scenes or swear words.
"It is not horrible, just frank. It is lively stuff about adult life. You have to be open-minded and pretty unshockable. We are trying to do something for everybody at the Rose."
Unwin described his biggest challenge in directing The Vortex as actually bringing the classic to life.
He says: “How do you make it come alive without destroying it? People think the 1920s were very boring, but it was actually a very stylish period and had great elegance.
“You do it very slowly bit by bit, step by step. It is like learning to ride a bike. We have to talk about it – what does my character really want? What is happening at this moment?"
The all-star cast includes David Dawson who plays Nicky Lancaster and recently appeared in Ripper Street.
Rebecca Johnson, who plays the unmarried friend of Florence Lancaster, says: “I am the best friend of a woman who has lovers half her age. I am her confidant, her rock.
“I don’t know if she is a lesbian but I did a lot of research. It was so taboo then so it was not explored.
"But I imagine there were a lot of women in the conventional set up who found it deeply unsatisfying.”
The Vortex, The Rose, 24-26 High Street, Kingston, February 7 to March 2, Monday to Sunday 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday matinee 2.30pm, £8-£40, call 08444 821 556 or visit rosetheatrekingston.org.