A Song at Twilight/Malvern Theatres

CARLOTTA stalks her prey like an adder trailing a fatally bitten mouse, the hunter secure in the knowledge that there can only be one outcome for the hunted.

Widely believed to be autobiographical, this is playwright Noel Coward at his most disarmingly confessional, a warts-and-all piece of theatrical therapy that leaves no grubby stone unturned.

Renowned writer Hugo Latymer, played with wonderfully unrelenting bombast by Simon Callow, spends his days basking in the ego-soothing rays of literary success stoked by a champagne lifestyle in his Swiss lakeside mansion.

Life is one big cocktail in which the caviar never runs out and the creaking drinks cabinet staggers under the weight of alcoholic delights.

In fact, all’s simply topping… that is, until venomous former lover Carlotta arrives with a few scores to settle. Jane Asher’s Carlotta wastes no time in opening a few cupboard doors to reveal enough skeletons to start an ossuary. And she certainly has quite a few bones to pick with the pompous Hugo.

Meanwhile, the stoical and long-suffering Hilde (Jessica Turner) makes herself scarce as her husband is mercilessly pursued across the deep pile.

Oblivious to the psychological bloodbath occurring all around him, servant Felix (Ash Rizi) flits from wine cellar to sitting room, constantly supplying the endless amounts of drink that will fuel this unequal contest.

Callow is marvellously monstrous as Latymer, a man whose ego is so mountainously high it must have snow on it. Even when his pomposity is mortally pricked and punctured by Carlotta’s deadly fangs, like the aforesaid mouse, he continues to struggle.

The moral of this cautionary tale is that anyone’s past could return to haunt them at any time. No one is safe. And, of course, as many of us know only too well, some people have more to hide than others. A Song at Twilight runs until Saturday (March 30). John Phillpott