Star Chamber (play)

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Star Chamber is a one-act play by Noël Coward, one of ten that make up Tonight at 8:30, a cycle written to be performed in alternating groups of three plays, 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." [1]

Star Chamber concerns a charity committee meeting among various actors around a table. The play was first performed in London on 21 March 1936. It received only one performance in the original run. However, it has been included in some revivals of the cycle.


Six of the plays in the cycle were first presented at the Manchester Opera House beginning in October 1935.[2] A seventh was added on the subsequent provincial tour, and the final three, including Star Chamber, were added during the London run. 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".[3]

The story in Star Chamber draws on Coward's own experiences as President of the Actors' Orphanage, a post he held from 1934 to 1956.[4] Coward makes fun of egocentric actors and the pedantry of committees. In the play, the president's lapdog is "the most sympathetic character" in the piece.[5]

The play's only London performance in the original run was on 21 March 1936 at the Phoenix Theatre.[6] After this maiden performance, Coward withdrew it from the cycle. The Broadway production in 1936 omitted Star Chamber[7] as did the Canadian productions in 1938, the Broadway revivals in 1948 and 1967 and the 1981 Lyric Theatre production in London. However, the 2000, the Williamstown Theatre Festival revived six of the plays, including Star Chamber.[8] The sheer expense involved in mounting what are effectively ten different productions has usually deterred revivals of the entire Tonight at 8:30 cycle. However, the Antaeus Classical Theater Ensemble in Los Angeles revived all ten plays in October 2007,[5][9] and the Shaw Festival did so in 2009.[10]

The BBC broadcast the play on the Home Service in May 1940 starring Margaretta Scott, and again in June 1941.[11] In 1991, BBC television mounted productions of the Tonight at 8:30 plays with Joan Collins taking the Lawrence roles, but Star Chamber was omitted.[12] The play was not included in the Heinemann edition of the Tonight at 8:30 plays published in 1936, and was first published in 1939 in Rose Window, a tribute to St Bartholomew's Hospital by twenty-five authors, including Vera Brittain, J.B. Priestley, Hugh Walpole, Emlyn Williams and Radclyffe Hall as well as Coward. The book was illustrated by Anna Zinkeisen, who contributed a drawing of Xenia James (Lawrence's role) to accompany Star Chamber.[13] In connection with Coward's centenary in 1999, the play was printed in the 7th volume of the Methuen series of Coward's Collected Plays.


A meeting takes place of the management committee of a theatrical charity, the "Garrick Haven Fund", to benefit a retirement home for destitute actresses. The committee consists of actors, who sit around a table. The stylish president of the board, the actress Xenia James, is accompanied by a small lapdog named Bravo, who is banished to the prop room for being smelly.


  1. ^ Shaw Festival Study Guide, 2009, p. 4. Accessed 17 March 2010.
  2. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1935, p. 11
  3. ^ Coward, unnumbered introductory page
  4. ^ Lesley, pp. 168 and 354
  5. ^ a b Hitchcock, Laura "Tonight at 8:30 — Part One, If Love Were All", CurtainUp Los Angeles, October 2007
  6. ^ The Times 10 January 1936, p. 10.
  7. ^ Tonight at 8:30 at the IBDB database
  8. ^ Brantley, Ben. "How to Savor Fleeting Joys: Smiles Suave, Brows Arched", The New York Times, 28 June 2000,
  9. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Noël Coward's Tonight at 8:30 Begins L.A. Run Oct. 20", 20 October 2007
  10. ^ Belcher, David. "Brushing Up Their Coward in Canada". New York Times, 17 August 2009
  11. ^ The Times, 18 May 1940, p. 11 and The Manchester Guardian, 24 June 1941, p. 2
  12. ^ Truss, Lynne. "Tonight at 8.30", The Times, 15 April 1991
  13. ^ Coward bibliography at the Noel Coward website