Song at Twilight: First night review, Windsor Theatre Royal (
ALARMINGLY candid and with touches of malice and malevolence, Noël Coward's Song at Twilight is delighting audiences with its bittersweet ironies, following a remarkable opening night with two of this country's best-loved actors at Windsor's Theatre Royal.
Simon Callow and Jane Asher are simply stunning in this wonderfully dark and unnerving emotional romp through a man's dwindling importance as the sun starts to set on a glittering acting career... while sex secrets about his past are uncovered.
Coward's unique gift in exposing society for all its caprices and underlying hypocrisy is delicious as he peels away the thin veneer of sexual appetite to open a man up for public derision.
And it is with admiring candour that Callow and Asher seek out each other's weak points and indulge in pushing buttons in a bid to head each other off at the final pass.It really is a duel of sharp wits and sharp tongues.
The wasps are buzzing around each other, but is there a sting in the tale?
Sir Hugo Latymer (Callow: Amadeus; Four Weddings; Shakespeare in Love) is becoming a rude, grumpy old man in the twilight of his years. While living in a rather Byron/Shelley lakeside stylee alongside his long-suffering wife/secretary, Hilde (Jessica Turner:  Father Brown; Midsomer Murders), and Felix (Ash Rizi: Luther; Silent Witness), a handsome young waiter, he nervously awaits the arrival of former lover and insignificant actress Carlotta Gray (Asher: The Mistress; Dancing on the Edge; Holby City).
It's been forty years since their liaison so what does she want, given his nasty, abrasive tendency and his rather unfair portrayal of him in a recent autobiography? Money? Revenge? 
No, the pay-off is not about money. Carlotta is writing her own memoirs and wants to talk about love letters he sent her during their affair...oh, and the little matter of letters he wrote to another lover - a secret stash that, now uncovered, is held above his head like the sword of Damocles.
Callow brings a gracious vulnerability to his portrayal of an increasingly emotionally incontinent Latymer. His rich cadences set him as a man apart within the realm of regret Coward creates.
Coward made his farewell stage appearance playing the semi-autobiographical role of Sir Hugo in the West End production of the play in 1966.
Callow's strength is his unerring ability to show a wounded side maybe only Coward himself may have regularly slapped a theatrical bandage over. It's a suitably subtle performance with emotion bubbling under, the rage never quite reaching boiling point.
Asher certainly shows that there are freckles in her temper, but again it's her repartee in crossing swords with Callow where she scores. There are some wonderful direct hits to the heart as she reveals her knowledge of his past indiscretions, delivered with consummate verve.Rizi as Felix is poignantly the character who shows the soft underbelly of Latymer's predilictions.Turner as Hilde holds the key to the any secretary would. As Latymer's patient partner Turner shines in her portrayal of a loyal companion who has long-since prepared for any eventuality in her husband's half-light life.Don't let the sun set before you decide to ditch the tellybox and romp on down to the 'Royal'.Song at Twilight, Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday, March 16. Box office: 01753 853888 or tours then at Kingston, Malvern, Eastbourne and Norwich, until mid-April.