First night audience for Noël Coward's Cavalcade

First night audience for Noël Coward's Cavalcade

A Noël Coward first night always guaranteed a high profile audience. The first night audience for Cavalcade in 1931 included not only aristocracy but theatre luminaries such as designer Oliver Messel, the Countess of Dudley, former Gaiety star Gertie Millar and Edna May, star of The Belle of New York. Coward recalled the first night as ‘the most agonising three hours I have ever spent in a theatre’. During a scene change one of the downstage lifts stuck. Some of the audience grew restless and started the slow handclap. Coward was just about to announce that the rest of the show was cancelled when, miraculously, the lift moved and the show continued. All the cast were shaken by the event, but the audience loved the show and Coward was called to make a curtain speech. Taken unawares, he improvised saying that he hoped that the play had made the audience feel that ‘it was still pretty exciting to be English’. This unpremediated remark came back to haunt him in later years, which Coward found especially annoying, as he never intended the play to have a jingoistic message.