Red Peppers is a short comic play by Noël Coward, one of the ten plays that make up Tonight at 8:30, a cycle written to be performed across three evenings. In the introduction to a published edition of the plays, Coward wrote, "A short play, having a great advantage over a long one in that it can sustain a mood without technical creaking or over padding, deserves a better fate, and if, by careful writing, acting and producing I can do a little towards reinstating it in its rightful pride, I shall have achieved one of my more sentimental ambitions."
The play was first produced in 1935 in Manchester and on tour and played in London (1936), New York (1936–1937) and Canada (1938). It has enjoyed several major revivals, and has been adapted for film and numerous times for television. At the London première Red Peppers was played on the same evening as Family Album and The Astonished Heart. Like all the other plays in the cycle it originally starred Gertrude Lawrence and Coward himself.
Six of the plays (We Were Dancing, The Astonished Heart, Red Peppers, Hands Across the Sea, Fumed Oak and Shadow Play) were first presented at the Manchester Opera House beginning on 15 October 1935. A seventh play, Family Album, was added on the subsequent provincial tour. The final three were added for the London run. The plays were performed in various combinations of three at each performance during the original run. The plays chosen for each performance were announced in advance, although a myth evolved that the groupings were random. Matinées were sometimes billed as Today at 2:30.
The first London performance was on 9 January 1936 at the Phoenix Theatre. It was one of the best-received plays in Tonight at 8:30 (or Tonight at 7:30 as it was billed in Manchester, to reflect the earlier starting time in the provinces in the 1930s). Coward directed all ten pieces, and each starred Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. Coward said that he wrote them as "acting, singing, and dancing vehicles for Gertrude Lawrence and myself".
Four of the plays in the cycle "break into spontaneous song ... in the most unexpected places". For the onstage scenes in Red Peppers, Coward wrote two pastiche music hall duets, "Has Anybody Seen our Ship?" and "Men About Town". Coward described the play as "a vaudeville sketch sandwiched in between two parodies of music hall songs. We always enjoyed playing it and public always enjoyed watching us play it, which of course was highly satisfactory."
The Broadway openings for the three parts took place on 24 November 1936 (including Red Peppers), 27 November 1936 and 30 November 1936 at the National Theatre, again starring Coward and Lawrence. Star Chamber was omitted. The London and New York runs were limited only by Coward's boredom at long engagements.
Major productions of parts of the cycle were revived in 1948 and 1967 on Broadway (including Red Peppers in 1948 but omitting it in 1967), 1981 at the Lyric Theatre in London (Shadow Play, Hands Across the Sea and Red Peppers), starring John Standing and Estelle Kohler and at the Chichester Festival in 2006 (Shadow Play, Hands Across the Sea, Red Peppers, Family Album, Fumed Oak and The Astonished Heart). In 1971, the Shaw Festival revived three of the plays (but not Red Peppers), and in 2000, the Williamstown Theatre Festival revived We Were Dancing, Family Album, Hands Across the Sea (all starring Blythe Danner), Red Peppers, Shadow Play and Star Chamber. The Antaeus Company in Los Angeles revived all ten plays in October 2007, and in 2009 the Shaw Festival revived the full cycle in 2009. In 1991, BBC television mounted productions of the individual plays with Joan Collins taking the Lawrence roles. Anthony Newley also starred in this version of Red Peppers. The sheer expense involved in mounting what are effectively ten different productions has usually deterred revivals of the entire Tonight at 8:30 cycle, but the constituent plays can often be seen individually or in sets of three.
Roles and original cast
- George Pepper – Noël Coward
- Lily Pepper – Gertrude Lawrence
- Alf – Kenneth Carten
- Bert Bentley – Anthony Pelissier
- Mr. Edwards – Alan Webb
- Mabel Grace – Alison Leggatt (Joyce Carey in New York)
George and Lily Pepper are a husband-and-wife act in touring music hall. Onstage at a provincial theatre, their act is a mess. In their act, George and Lily are dressed as sailors and sing "Has Anybody Seen our Ship?". In white tie and tails as a pair of flâneurs, they sing "Men About Town". Offstage in their dressing room between the two musical numbers, the argumentative couple "drink beer, eat steaks, comb their wigs, slang each other mercilessly and then join forces to slang the manager". They also slang the theatre's musical director, which backfires when he later vindictively speeds up at the end of their second number, turning their final exit into a disastrous scramble.
For a 1952 film Meet Me Tonight, directed by Anthony Pelissier, Coward adapted Ways and Means, Red Peppers and Fumed Oak (the film was called Tonight at 8:30 in the US) In addition to the 1991 BBC series, television adaptations of Red Peppers were released in 1937, 1938, 1958 and 1969. In 1954, Otto Preminger directed a "Producers' Showcase" television production of Shadow Play, Still Life and Red Peppers (featuring Martyn Green and Ginger Rogers).
- Shaw Festival Study Guide, 2009, p. 4. Accessed 17 March 2010.
- Hoare, pp. 268–70
- The Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1935, p. 11
- Conolly, Leonard. "Shaw Festival Production History: Tonight at 8:30", Shaw Festival Theatre '09 Season
- The Times, 20 January 1936, p. 10; 11 February 1936, p. 12; 2 March 1936, p. 12; 6 April 1936, p. 10; 2 May 1936, p. 12; 10 June 1936, p. 14.
- The Times 10 January 1936, p. 10.
- The Observer, 19 January 1936, p. 15
- Coward (Plays: Three) unnumbered introductory page
- Brantley, Ben. "How to Savor Fleeting Joys: Smiles Suave, Brows Arched", The New York Times, 28 June 2000,
- Kenrick, John. "Noel Coward 101: Coward's Musicals", Musicals 101: The Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV and Film
- Coward (Plays: Four), unnumbered introductory page
- Red Peppers and other plays at the IBDB database
- Belcher, David. "Brushing Up Their Coward in Canada". New York Times, 17 August 2009
- Truss, Lynne. "Tonight at 8.30", The Times, 15 April 1991
- Meet Me Tonight (1952) at the IMDB database
- Red Peppers (1937) at the IMDB database
- Red Peppers (1938) at the IMDB database
- Red Peppers (1958) at the IMDB database
- Red Peppers (1969) at the IMDB database
- "Producers' Showcase", Tonight at 8:30 (1954) at the IMDB database
- Coward, Noël. Plays: Three, Eyre Methuen, London, 1979, ISBN 0-413-46100-9
- Coward, Noël. Plays: Four, Eyre Methuen, London, 1979. ISBN 0-413-46120-3
- Castle, Charles. Noël, W. H. Allen, London, 1972. ISBN 0-491-00534-2
- Day, Barry. Coward on Film, Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8108-5358-2
- Hoare, Philip. Noël Coward, A Biography. Sinclair-Stevenson 1995. ISBN 1-85619-265-2.
- Photo from Red Peppers at musicals101.com