Director’s Notes on A Song At Twilight

In a toast at his 70th birthday party (December 16th, 1969), Noël Coward was described by Lord Louis Mountbatten:

“There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are twelve different people. Only one man combined all twelve labels... The Master.”

Near the end of his career Noël Coward was looking to write a “farewell” play. He said, “I would like to act once more before I fold my bedraggled wings.” What emerged was A Song at Twilight.

After finishing in the play in March, 1965, he wrote to Lorn Loraine, his lifelong confidante and secretary:

“Here, my darling, is my new play. I think and hope you will like it. I think it’s quite a rouser. It is actually the first of my Hotel Suite series. I would like to play it myself with possibly Maggie Leighton and Irene Worth or Irene Worth and Wendy Hiller, or Maggie Leighton and Celia (Johnson).”

In a letter to Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, Noël Coward expressed his delight in his new plays:

October 3rd, 1965

“My Darlings,

This is a brief outline of my immediate plans on account of I feel you should be kept IN THE KNOW about everything that happens to your wandering boy.

I have finished my three plays, one full length (A Song at Twilight) and two one hour ones (Come Into the Garden, Maud and Shadows of the Evening), to be played on alternate nights. They all take place in one set which is a suite in the Beau Rivage Hotel, Lausanne and they only have three characters and an waiter in each play.

I really do think the plays are good. Binkie is mad about them. I start rehearsing here on January 16th for two weeks. Then London for two weeks on the stage, then Dublin - February 21st for three weeks, then London March 10th with a special preview for our darling Queen Mother on the 7th.

In the meantime I have had several chins taken away in London by a brilliant plastic surgeon who, unhappily, has since died, so I cannot go back to get rid of the other six. He was a dear man and I now look an old twelve. This, of course, is a dead secret except for Ed (Bigg) whom I’ve already told and, of course, Louella Parsons.

The summer, to coin a phrase, has been a “fucker” and we haven’t been able to see our hands before our thing. (Which we were tired of doing anyway.) I have been whisking about a bit and had a peculiar week on Sam Spiegel’s yacht with Burt Lancaster. I also suddenly won a thousand pounds in the Cannes Casino. Several old ladies were trampled to death I was in such a hurry to get out. I NEVER WENT BACK which proves that I have a very, very strong character as well as being beautiful as the day.

Coley sends you all sorts of love, even the love that dare not speak its name.

Love, love, love, love, love

The trio of plays ended up being known as Suite in Three Keys. They proved to be a success, a fitting send off, and the last of his plays to be performed in his lifetime.

Day, Barry. The Letters of Noël Coward. Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2007.