We Were Dancing

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This article is about the 1935 play by Noël Coward. For the film based on this play, see We Were Dancing (film).

We Were Dancing is a short comic play in two scenes by Noël Coward. It concerns a married woman who falls in love with another man at a dance on a south Pacific island. They plan to go to Australia, but in the cold light of morning, they realise that that they have nothing in common.

It is one of ten short plays 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 explained that the cycle was an attempt to revive the popularity of short plays: "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] Four of the plays in the cycle, including We Were Dancing, "break into spontaneous song... in the most unexpected places".[2] We Were Dancing includes a song of the same name.[3]

The piece was first produced in Manchester in 1935 and then played in London (1936), New York (1936–1937) and Canada (1938). The Manchester Guardian described the play as "a witty little piece",[4] and it was later seen as one of the more durable of the Tonight at 8:30 cycle.[5] It has enjoyed several major revivals.


The play was first presented at the Opera House, Manchester, on 15 October 1935, when it was played along with two other plays from Tonight at 8:30, The Astonished Heart and Red Peppers.[4] Six of the plays debuted in Manchester, and a seventh was added on the subsequent provincial tour. The final three were added for the London run.[6] 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.[7] Matinées were sometimes billed as Today at 2:30.

The first London performance was on 9 January 1936 at the Phoenix Theatre.[8] Coward directed. All ten pieces starred Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. Coward said that he wrote them as "acting, singing, and dancing vehicles for Gertrude Lawrence and myself".[9] The Broadway openings for the three parts took place on 24 November 1936, 27 November 1936 (including We Were Dancing) and 30 November 1936 at the National Theatre, again starring Coward and Lawrence. Star Chamber was not included.[10] The London and New York runs were limited only by Coward's boredom at long engagements.[11]

Major productions of parts of the cycle were revived in 1948 and 1964 on Broadway, 1981 at the Lyric Theatre in London and at the Chichester Festival in 2006, but all omitted We Were Dancing. However, We Were Dancing was revived at the Shaw Festival in 1971 and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2000.[2] The Antaeus Company in Los Angeles revived all ten plays in October 2007, as did the Shaw Festival in 2009.[12]

The play, together with ideas from Ways and Means, another play in the Tonight at 8:30 cycle, was loosely adapted as a film of the same name in 1942. It was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starred Norma Shearer and Melvyn Douglas. The plot was modified to so that the couple were now expatriate impoverished European aristocrats, professional houseguests of, and looking for mates among, nouveau riche Americans who are impressed by their titles.[13]

Roles and original cast[edit]


Two stylish people, Karl and Louise (a married woman), fall in love at a country club dance on Samolo, a south Pacific island. They spend the night planning their future, and Karl, who is in the shipping business, asks Louise to go to Australia with him, although she prefers South Africa. Her husband, Hubert, pleads with her to leave with him, asking how she knows she is in love. She replies by singing: "We were dancing/And the music and the lights were enhancing/our desire". Hubert departs with his sister Clara, asking Karl to make Louise happy. In the cold light of morning, when they are tired and hungry, Karl and Louise realise that that love has died, and they are strangers and have nothing in common. Even when they dance together, the passion is gone. With sadness, they go their separate ways.


  1. ^ Shaw Festival Study Guide, 2009, p. 4. Accessed 17 March 2010.
  2. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "How to Savor Fleeting Joys: Smiles Suave, Brows Arched". The New York Times, 28 June 2000
  3. ^ Day, p. 36
  4. ^ a b The Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1935, p. 11
  5. ^ The Times, 23 December 1970, p. 7
  6. ^ Hoare, pp. 268–70
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ The Times, 10 January 1936, p. 10.
  9. ^ Coward, unnumbered introductory page
  10. ^ We Were Dancing at the IBDB database
  11. ^ Kenrick, John. "Noel Coward 101: Coward's Musicals", Musicals 101: The Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV and Film
  12. ^ Belcher, David. "Brushing Up Their Coward in Canada". New York Times, 17 August 2009
  13. ^ Landazuri, Margarita. We Were Dancing, TCM.com, accessed 16 September 2014