Noel Coward's The Vortex is currently playing at Rose Theatre, Kingston, London. It's an intimate off-West End theatre with a stage jutting out into the audience, and a 'pit' where viewers can bring their own cushion and get up close to the action.
The Vortex set is sparse and colourful, as are the characters that waft through it. The plot is simple enough: Florence is dallying with a young man of her son's age, wilfully refusing to grow up and take on motherly and wifely responsibilities. When Nicky, her son, returns from studying in Paris with a cocaine habit and a fiancée in tow, the situation comes to a head, sparked off by the unexpected reunion between Florence's and Nicky's lovers, who were once a couple themselves.
Kerry Fox is unrepentant as the spoilt Florence, desperate to hang on to her youth; Rebecca Johnson shines as as Helen, her confidante and the voice of reason throughout; James Dreyfus gets the wittiest lines as the acerbic socialite queen; and William Chubb as the neglected husband and father exudes a quiet dignity that really brings the character to life. His short scenes with Nicky are gentle and heartbreaking. But it is David Dawson as Nicky who steals the show, an utterly compelling presence who conveys as much by what he doesn't say as with the sharp spiky script. His timing and delivery are spot on and his unfocussed stares into the middle distance are revealing, drawing you in to his inner turmoil. Nicky is confused and twitchy, brittle and near-hysteric in his search for parental love and stability, and the inevitable final conflict between him and his mother, where he lays bare both her flaws and his own, is terrible in its intensity. I am in awe of these two actors who can summon such sincere seeming emotions night after night - I don't know how they can bear it. The Vortex offers an emotionally draining but worthwhile experience and I don't hesitate to recommend it.