“Star quality: I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got it.”
– Noël Coward
No argument here.
Noël Coward was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life, and now a free exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery is throwing a little light on the man, the myth he created, and that star quality that surrounded him. He made his West End debut as a playwright almost exactly 100 years ago, at the age of just 19, and went on to produce over 50 plays, write hundreds of songs, dozens of screenplays, poems, short stories, and more.
This show is curated by a bona fide Coward superfan, Brad Rosenstein, who has already put on acclaimed exhibitions on the man in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The basic idea behind this new exhibition is to show the enormous cultural ripples he produced, uplifting the nation through two world wars and one Great Depression, and how those ripples are still felt today.
So what to expect? Well, it’s all laid out in rough chronological order starting with Coward’s working class childhood, then taking us on an intimate journey through his life on the stage, in the USA, on the British propaganda office during the war, and in Switzerland & Jamaica in his twilight years. Every effort is made to separate the man from the public image he meticulously cultivated, and to show how he managed his sexuality in private, while outwardly refusing to compromise on anything. Some highlights?
- A never-before-seen gold lamé theatre cape by Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon from 1920.
- Some of Coward’s own sheet music, including an original page of his handwritten lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
- Original items from Coward’s various homes, including the iconic ‘Hamlet’ chair and several of his own paintings.
- And commissioned specifically for this exhibition, a near-perfect new reconstruction of the iconic white satin dress that Molyneux designed in 1930 for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives.
It all ends with a media gallery that includes personal photos from the ’50s (which you can see in a 3D stereoscopic viewer), and even some personal home movies that he recorded of himself and his friends. The show’s on now, and finishes on 23rd of December…
…just as the other noël starts.
NOTE: Noël Coward: Art & Style runs at the Guildhall Gallery from now until 23rd Dec 2021. Tickets are free, but must be pre-booked. You can find out more, and secure your spot at the website right HERE.
The Guildhall Gallery | Guildhall Yard, EC2V 5AE
While you’re in Guildhall… here are a few places to eat.