Cowardy Custard is a musical revue and was one of the last Noël Coward shows staged during his life. It was devised by Gerard Frow, Alan Strachan and Wendy Toye. A book, also titled Cowardy Custard, was published in connection with the revue, similarly celebrating the Coward image.
The biographical revue premiered in London in 1972, running for 405 performances. A revised version toured in the UK in 2011.
The term "cowardy custard" is a taunt used by children in the UK equivalent to "scaredy cat" in the US.
The working title of the show was Cream of Coward, but Coward cabled the producers three months before the opening from his home in Jamaica suggesting Cowardy Custard. He vetoed an alternative suggestion, This Is Noël Coward, which he said was too close to "This Was Noël Coward".
Telling the story of Coward's life through song and biographical snippets, the revue was billed as "An entertainment featuring the words and music of Noël Coward". The Coward numbers featured are songs and scenes from Coward's works of the 1920s to the 1960s, including "You were there", "Mad About the Boy"; "The Stately Homes of England", "I Wonder What Happened to Him?" and, perhaps most memorably, "Marvellous Party" (sung by Patricia Routledge in the original production). The revue also contains previously unpublished material, excerpts of plays and dialogues, material from Coward's autobiographies and some of his poems. Sketches featured include scenes from Shadow Play.
The original production opened at the Mermaid Theatre, London, on 10 July 1972 as part of the 1972 City of London Festival and ran for over a year for a total of 405 performances. It was directed by Wendy Toye and employed a cast of twelve (six men and six women), featuring Routledge, Derek Waring, John Moffatt, Elaine Delmar, Una Stubbs, Jonathan Cecil, Peter Gale, Anna Sharkey, Geoffrey Burridge, Laurel Ford, Tudor Davies and Olivia Breeze. The musical director was John Burrows. After its run in London, the show toured the UK with different cast members. It has since been produced by amateur groups. Also in 1972, a revue on similar lines, Oh, Coward!, played in New York at the New Theatre, achieving 294 performances.
A new version of the show, revised by Strachan, was toured in the UK in spring 2011, starring Dillie Keane and Kit and The Widow, with Stuart Neal and Savanna Stevenson. It included unpublished material and excerpts from Coward's diaries and memoirs, as well as the songs and scenes. Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph wrote, "This loving tribute to Noël Coward … now revised for a smaller cast ... is a classy delight … from Dillie Keane's hilariously hooting, rubber-legged drunk-act during 'I've Been to a Marvellous Party' ... to Kit Hesketh-Harvey's amazing hip-swivelling during the Latin American number 'Nina'."
From Mermaid Theatre programme, 10 July 1972 and sleeve notes to cast recording, RCA SER 5656/57. Numbers marked * were retained in the 2011 revival (with additional numbers listed below)
In addition to the numbers marked with an asterisk above, the 2011 revival of the show featured:
- Together with Music
- Some Day I'll Find You
- In a Boat on a Lake
- The Coconut Girl
- I Travel Alone
- Never Again
- Dunkling, Leslie (1990). A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-00761-5.
- The Times Diary, 3 May 1972, p. 16
- The Times Diary, 11 July 1972, p. 14
- The reviewer in The Times, Charles Lewsen, said "Miss Routledge was in glorious voice last night. Her 'Marvellous Party' threatened to stop the show." The Times, 11 July 1972, p. 13.
- Coward, Noël; John Hadfield (ed). Cowardy Custard: The World of Noël Coward, London: Heinemann (1973) ISBN 0-434-31090-5
- May 2011 theatre programme for Cowardy Custard
- "Cowardy Custard – Tour – 2011". Artswrap, accessed 17 June 2011
- Spencer, Charles. "Coward's comic delights", The Daily Telegraph, 13 April 2011
- Profile of the show at guidetomusicaltheatre
- Notes to RCA original cast recording SER 5656/57
- Information about the revue at the Samuel French site
- Information about the cast album
- Information about the background of the revue
- Script of Cowardy Custard