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The Vortex

Will Young is in Manchester playing the hedonistic Nicky Lancaster in The Royal Exchange’s exuberant new production, The Vortex…

Published on January 23rd 2007.

The Vortex

The Vortex, which was famously condemned as ‘dustbin drama’ after its catapulted Noel Coward into the public arena in 1924, explores the emptiness and despair lurking behind the glittering decadence of 1920’s high society and deals with problems of drug addiction, repressed sexuality and infidelity.

The main talking point in the build up to this production has been Will Young, whose casting in the lead role of Nicky Lancaster has caused much hype around the play in the past few months. So popular has been this choice that the Royal Exchange has been flooded with bookings for the entire run, and has had to set up a separate booking line.

This is a fast paced, exciting production by the Royal Exchange; Lez Brotherston’s visually striking art deco set and extravagent period costumes perfectly encapsulating the edgy decadence of the jazz age, where show is everything and real issues are repressed. Every character is hidden behind a mask, and when the pressure becomes too much and the masks slip, the real drama begins to unfold.

Diana Hardcastle steals the stage as Florence Lancaster, Nicky’s middle aged yet ‘young inside’ mother, who shelters herself from the reality of growing old underneath cosmetics, expensive clothes and a string of affairs with younger men. Her performance is mesmerising, poignant and utterly honest, and she is, without a doubt, the absolute star of a very accomplished cast.

Other notable performances come from Alexandra Mathie as the straight talking Helen, and Royal Exchange favourite Laura Rees as the daughter in law from hell, Bunty Mainwaring.

The pressure was certainly on for Will Young, and, in many ways he is perfectly suited to the role of the spoilt and childlike Nicky - especially in the lighter early stages of the play in which he camps it up suitably and displays excellent timing in his delivery of Coward’s quips and turns.

As the play becomes darker and more dramatic however, Young struggles to give the writing its full dramatic force, and the play’s powerful climax, in which mother and son battle it out and wear each other’s defences down, is unfortunately the poorer for it.

For the most part, The Royal Exchange hits the mark with this production. The decision to cast a pop star in a leading role was always going to be a controversial one, and Young perhaps has to prove himself a little more than other actors. But The Vortex is enjoyable, exuberant, and deserves to be successful in its own right, despite Young’s celebrity pushing up the box office takings.

Jayne Robinson

The Vortex
The Royal Exchange Until March 10th 2007

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