Newsletter no 14: Funding – A lovely way to spend an evening – Noël Coward

by Elizabeth Mucha

Great news! We are extremely grateful to have received funding for a second time from the Marchus Trust for the development of our latest Art Sung project, Art Sung – Edith Sitwell, Behind her Façade.

We now have 3 confirmed performances for ‘Edith’:

  • London Song Festival on Friday 24th November 2023.
  • The Barnes Festival on Thursday 14th March, 2024.
  • Music in New Malden on Sunday 11th February, 2024 (shorter version).

More details closer to the time.

Meantime, our new leading lady, actress and singer Lucy Stevens is at the Edinburgh Fringe, performing her latest one woman show, A lovely way to spend an evening, about actress Gertrude Lawrence, Noël Coward’s favourite leading lady. If you are heading up to the ‘Athens of the North’ this month and wondering which shows to see at the Fringe, this one will certainly not disappoint! It’s fabulous and a ‘lovely way to spend an afternoon’ at the elegant Assembly Rooms in George Street, 4pm, 3rd – 27th August 2023. She is accompanied by her long-standing collaborator, pianist Liz Marcus

A lovely way to spend an evening and Art Sung – Edith Sitwell cross paths in rather a curious way!  Noël Coward, the larger-than-life playwright, composer, singer, director and actor, was hugely influential in Gertrude Lawrence’s life, but played a rather more contentious role in Edith Sitwell’s story. Coward was in the audience when Façade was first performed at the Aeolian Hall in 1923, and it inspired him to create a satirical sketch called “The Swiss family Whittlebot” for his revue, ‘London Calling’. Hernia Whittlebot, together with her brothers, Gob and Sago, (based on Edith and her brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell) parodied Edith’s poetry with lines such as ‘Life is essentially a curve and Art is an oblong within that curve. My brothers and I have been brought up on Rhythm as other children are brought up on Glaxo”. Hernia even went on to have her own gossip column and radio broadcasts. Noel Coward had inadvertently given the Sitwells the publicity they craved! However, Edith felt very insulted and sharpened her claws on him publicly.

She wrote, ‘I admire particularly those photographs taken of him (Noel Coward) in the morning, looking more than ever like the lilies and langours of virtue, sipping his breakfast and obviously about to break into one of those heart breaking brittle little ditties (sung in a voice with a catch in it) in which an elephantine wit lumbers and scampers breathlessly aften an emotion frail and destructive as a clothes moth’.

Scathing or what!

Scroll forward to 1962 and after hearing that Coward had been promoting her work, Edith sent him a telegram, ‘Friendship never too late’. They met and he apologised for the Whittlebot episode. Afterwards, Coward wrote in his dairy: ‘How strange that a forty-year feud should finish so gracefully and so suddenly. I am awfully glad. She gave me her new slim volume of poems. I am fairly unrepentant about her poetry. I really think that three-quarters of it is gibberish. However, I must crush down these thoughts otherwise the dove of peace will shit on me.’!



I’m not sure quite how Edith would have felt if she knew that one of Coward’s ‘brittle little ditties’ is in our programme, but there we are!

Elizabeth MuchaNewsletter no 14: Funding – A lovely way to spend an evening – Noël Coward