Thursday, 17 July 2014

People I employ have the impertinence to call me Myrna Loy

As my regular reader will no doubt be aware, we at Dolores Delargo Towers have - among many obsessions - a passion for Art Deco, and a particular adoration of The Master Noël Coward. Imagine our delight when tickets came up for an intimate cabaret that successfully managed to blend the two things into one...

Brasserie Zedel is a marvellous survivor of the "march of progress". When the Crown Estate decided to dispense with the gargantuan Regent Palace Hotel at the edge of Piccadilly Circus back in 2010 [it had become very run-down, and catered mainly for back-packers and cheap tourists by that stage], parts of its edifice [presumably listed] were preserved to form the cornerstones of the new office and retail development [home to the UK base of Tw*tter, apparently] that went up in its place.

Thankfully, some of the subterranean suites, bars and restaurant also survived in their Art Deco glory.

Perfectly restored and immaculately detailed with posters and photos from the "Jazz Age", Brasserie Zedel now occupies the space and continues that Deco tradition today, with a combination of dining, champagne and cocktails in its three suites. Our evening's entertainment yesterday was hosted in the small-but-beautifully-extravagant "Crazy Coqs Cabaret Room" (known in the 1930s as the "Chez Cup Bar") - in the masterful [pun intended] company of Coward champion and expert performer Stefan Bednarczyk.

And it was superb.

Mr Bednarczyk is more than just an expert in "Noël Cowardry"; he has made it his life's work to get to know the man. Over time he befriended Graham Payn (Coward's widower), Judy Campbell (who Coward called his "muse") and Sheridan Morley (his official biographer, whose widow Ruth is Zedel's artistic director), all of whom provided him with pithy anecdotes and some largely unfamiliar material from which he crafted the show.

Not least of these "rarities" - and we had certainly never heard any of them before - were Coward's poems (or "verses" as he preferred to call them). Mostly autobiographical, and at times achingly melancholy, they provided a marvellous foil for Mr Bednarczyk's interpretations of more recognisable material like Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington and Mad Dogs And Englishmen. This one took our breath away - I Am No Good At Love:

I am no good at love
My heart should be wise and free
I kill the unfortunate golden goose
Whoever it may be
With over-articulate tenderness
And too much intensity.

I am no good at love
I batter it out of shape
Suspicion tears at my sleepless mind
And gibbering like an ape,
I lie alone in the endless dark
Knowing there's no escape.

I am no good at love
When my easy heart I yield
Wild words come tumbling from my mouth
Which should have stayed concealed;
And my jealousy turns a bed of bliss
Into a battlefield.

I am no good at love
I betray it with little sins
For I feel the misery of the end
In the moment that it begins
And the bitterness of the last good-bye
Is the bitterness that wins.

As reviewer Fiona-Jane Weston rightly states:
"Bednarczyk’s recitations of these works were a masterclass in verse-speaking, embracing enjambed lines where the sense and breath followed from one line into the next, and using the rhythm and metre skilfully, avoiding the temptation to allow the narrative to descend into prose."
His performance of the more familiar Coward songbook was also delightful. Perfectly phrased, yet never veering into sentimentalism or literal impersonation, he gave us a comprehensive tour of later works such as Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans, London Pride, There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner [dedicated to the recent cabinet re-shuffle, with the sardonic observation that despite everything Iain Duncan-Smith and Jeremy Hunt are still in their jobs...], and our own favourites Nina and If Love Were All.

And, befitting of a performer who has his eye on political campaigning - not least for gay rights - Mr Bednarczyk performed the sadly excised male version of Mad About The Boy [that I featured on the occasion of The Master's birthday last year]. The lyrics are memorable:

Mad about the boy
I know it’s silly
But I’m mad about the boy
And even Dr Freud cannot explain
Those vexing dreams
I’ve had about the boy

When I told my wife
She said
“I never heard such nonsense in my life!”
Her lack of sympathy
Embarrassed me
And made me frankly glad about the boy.

My doctor can’t advise me
He’d help me if he could
Three time he’s tried to psychoanalyse me
But it’s just no good

People I employ
Have the impertinence
To call me Myrna Loy
I rise above it
Frankly love it
‘Cos I’m absolutely
Mad about the boy

No video footage of Stefan Bednarczyk performing Noël Coward exists on the web, unfortunately. In fact I can't even find a website for Mr B [although I did find out that he appeared in Mike Leigh's Gilbert & Sullivan movie Topsy Turvy]!

Here, instead, is the opera genius Felicity Lott with her inimitable version of another Coward classic that Mr Bednarczyk performed for us - A Bar on the Piccola Marina:

If ever this show pops up again (which it undoubtedly will), I highly recommend to anyone to grab a ticket. We had a marvellous time.

And if you are in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus, you simply must visit Brasserie Zedel!


  1. Yes, I would like to visit that bar.
    I developed a thing for Noel Coward after watching the film Star! [about Gertrude Lawrence, starring Julie Andrews], and it featured Daniel Massey playing Noel Coward. Really, I should have developed a thing for Daniel Massey... but there you go.

    1. It's a bit of a way from Dartmoor, but definitely worth putting on the itinerary should you be planning a trip to the Big Smoke at some stage in the future...

      As for Noel Coward - I sometimes feel I would dearly love to have been born him, but celebrating his life and work at every opportunity is a good second best.


      PS Daniel Massey. Great actor. Odd-looking chracter, though.


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