It seemed like the ideal combination, a Noël Coward play, fresh from Broadway, the internationally acclaimed actress, Vivien Leigh and the equally acclaimed British stage actor, Anthony Quayle. But it was not to be.
Noël Coward’s stage farce, Look After Lulu! is based on the French comedy, Occupe-toi d’Amélie by Georges Feydeau. Set in Paris during 1908, the story centres around an attractive young prostitute whose lover takes the curious decision to entrust her to a friend, while he goes into the army. His so-called-friend, soon takes advantage of the situation and attempts to trick her into a mock wedding.
From the start, Look After Lulu! seemed destined not to be one of Coward’s greatest triumphs. The play premiered on Broadway at the Henry Miller’s Theatre on 3 March 1959 and closed on 4 April 1959, after just 39 performances. Time magazine suggested, “Coward’s dialogue for this turn-of-the-century French farce is broad more often than bright, and Cyril Ritchard’s direction is often as agitated as it is agile.”
Not to be put-off, Coward transferred the play to the West End. Look After Lulu! opened at the Royal Court Theatre on 29 July 1959. It then quickly transferred to the New Theatre, where it ran for five months until December of that year.
The London production starred Vivien Leigh, with Robert Stephens, Anthony Quayle, Anne Bishop and Max Adrian. Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times wrote, “If Look After Lulu! is only half a success, the reasons are more than complimentary to everyone concerned. The trouble is that Mr Coward is too witty, and Miss Leigh too beautiful. For the kind of play that Look After Lulu! is, beauty and wit are about as necessary as a peach melba at the North Pole.”
The New Theatre, later to become the Albery Theatre and then, following its acquisition by Delfont-Mackintosh and an extensive refurbishment, the Noël Coward Theatre, was where Anthony Quayle launched his Compass Theatre Company in 1984, with a production of The Clandestine Marriage. It was also where he and his co-star, Roy Kinnear recorded a set of radio interviews that have become the basis of RABBIT & SNAIL’s new documentary STAGE DIRECTION.