That's Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence above. If you ever read a Noel Coward play, you might have come away wondering what all the fuss was about. The plays are good, but not great. Why, you might have wondered, was the man so famous? Come to think of it, why was his actor/singer friend Gertrude Lawrence so popular?
Thanks to YouTube we have an answer. YouTube won't allow the clip to be embedded, so I can't put it up here, but here's the next best thing: a link to a five-minute clip from Coward's play "Private Lives," recorded in 1931. Watch it now, then come back for commentary!
Wasn't that great!!!!!!!!????? Coward was a genius, but he wrote for his own unique performance style, and in the hands of anyone else the plays come off as flaccid. You can't make those lines work unless you're willing to commit to style and go way over the top with them. Coward himself found that hard to do as the years wore on. I don't think the middle-aged Coward could have pulled it off, even with the help of Lawrence.
The reason I put this up is to underline the point that style and technique is everything in entertainment. The most professionally useful quote I've ever encountered came from Paul Fussell, who was talking about poetry when he wrote (paraphrase): "you'll never be a poet unless you love words more than content. How you say something is even more important than what you say." That goes for cartooning and animation too. Content is important but technique trumps content.
More Coward and Lawrence above. For contrast here's how modern actors Alan Rickman ("Snape" in the Harry Potter films) and Lindsay Duncan handle the same play:
If the link doesn't work, you can find the piece on YouTube under the title: "Noel Coward: Private Lives (Interviews)."
They 're proud that they do the piece without style, searching instead for the truth in their parts. Honestly, truth is over-valued in the theater. What we need now is less truth and more technique.
Stephen, a commenter, provides us with these additional links:
(YouTube title: NoelCoward in New York - I went To a Marvelous Party)
(Stephen Fry's address to the Noel Coward Society)