Noël Coward's Three Ménages à Trois


“You bring out the bags under my eyes and the guttersnipe in my character!”

Carlotta to Hugo In A Song at Twilight


Emma Fielding as Anne, Tara Fitzgerald as Linda and Stephen Boxer as George. (Photo: Steve Gregson)

The Orange Tree is mounting three of Noël Coward’s last plays, written in 1965 before he died in Jamaica in 1973. Under the joint title, Suite in Three Keys,  all three plays have the same cast of three, Emma Fielding, Stephen Boxer and Tara Fitzgerald but playing different parts in each play.  Each is set in a luxury Swiss hotel, the Beau Rivage near Lake Geneva.  A fourth actor, Steffan Rizzi plays the same part in the three plays, that of Felix a waiter. All the plays are about marriages where there is some form of unhappiness or infidelity. 

The first play Shadows of the Evening is played in a double bill with the second, Come into the Garden, Maud ; both are one act plays. Shadows of the Evening is set in the era when a blameless party had to agree to a divorce or else they stayed married, a bit like the Commitment Ceremonies on Married at First Sight ! The “guilty” party could not start a divorce on his or her own.  Linda Savignac (Tara Fitzgerald) is publisher George Hilgay’s unassuming mistress and she has asked his wife Anne, the mother of his two children, from whom he is separated to urgently come to see her. 

When Anne arrives, Linda is decidedly nervous and frosty and Anne bites back with remembered pain venom. Linda has asked Anne because George’s doctor has told her that George has melanoma and the cancer has spread.  Linda wants help in telling George about his imminent death.  Enter George whose reaction is that he cannot stand the two women pretending to like each other.  He obviously wants to be the centre of attention and fought over!  

Tara Fitzgerald as Maud and Stephen Boxer as Verner (Photo: Steve Gregson)

There are discussions on “hazy promises of life after death”; George is an agnostic, Linda is Catholic and Anne is Church of England.  They get dressed up for an evening trip to the casino.  The set by Louie Whitemore is the same for all three plays, a room as a part of the hotel suite,  a desk with phone, and chairs in that French style of white painted rococo furniture with golden tipped scrolls and.the oft used drinks trolley.   

In the second play of the double bill, Come into the Garden, Maud,  an American matron from Minneapolis Anna-Mary Conklin (an unrecognisable Emma Fielding in curlers and pale blue, lacy negligée) is staying with her very rich, businessman husband Verner Conklin (Stephen Boxer), when Princess Maud calls.  Bossy, social climber Anna-Mary is arranging a dinner for a real Prince when Bobo, guest and pianist cries off leaving an unacceptable 13 for dinner.  Maud acquired her title by marriage but is English by birth and not socially valued by Mrs Concklin. Maud isn’t invited to the dinner and in any case has to drive to Rome.  Anna-Mary’s solution is for Verner to drop out of the dinner with far reaching consequences.   

When Anna-Mary leaves to get ready, Maud asks Verner why he allows his wife to bully him?  Maud has recited off her lovers and Verner tells her that in America, they would all have been husbands and she could have soaked, or was it sued, them for alimony?  I did learn that before the days of diffusers and aroma candles you could dab Miss Dior on light bulbs. This play illustrates just how badly husband and wife, Verner and Anna-Mary get on with constant and tetchy bickering. 

Stephen Boxer as Hugo. (Photo: Steve Gregson)

In this play Coward is satirising Americans and their pre-occupation with near-royalty having kicked out King George III in 1776. Although there are one or two lines to laugh at, neither of these “Double Bill” plays in my opinion glows with the wit Coward is known for. 

It is entirely different for the stand alone, A Song at Twilight  where Tom Littler’s fast moving direction comes into its own.  An eminent English writer Hugo Latymer (Stephen Boxer) is staying in Switzerland with his German born wife Hilde (a serious, suited Emma Fielding).  Hilde escaped from Nazi Germany in 1940. 

They are visited by Carlotta Gray (Yes, Tara Fitzgerald) a British actress with red hair piled up on top in a big hairdo. It emerges that Carlotta was a virgin when she met Hugo twenty years ago.  Hugo has written his memoir and referred to Carlotta as a mediocre actress.  Hilde has gone out to meet a friend but has arranged dinner for Carlotta and Hugo in the suite.  They recall a meal they had 20 years ago, presumably before deflowering Carlotta, of caviar, steak béarnaise, chocolate soufflé and pink champagne. 

Emma Field as Hilde (Photo: Steve Gregson)

Unknown to Hugo, Hilde has arranged this self same menu and we see it served and eaten by the actors.  I was close enough to see that the foil on the champagne had already been removed and there was no pop as Felix uncorked it and that the steak was distinctly missing the béarnaise sauce.  But the soufflé had risen beautifully and smelt wonderful.  “So lovely to see a steak that doesn’t look like a bedroom slipper!” she says.

Carlotta has come with a proposal that she should publish Hugo’s love letters to her but he refuses permission.  The negotiations commence. Carlotta reveals she has taken a room in the hotel and intends to stay.  Just before the interval she drops her bombshell which puts Hugo in a spin.  Wild horses won’t drag this out of me!

There is consternation and poker like negotiations but Hilde returns and the ending is probably a tad too neat for truth but I also can’t disclose why but I’d love to discuss it with anyone who has seen this excellent and tantalising play.  

All three plays give the actors the opportunity to play nine very different characters and although Emma Fielding is always the wife and Tara Fitzgerald the mistress, you won’t know whether Stephen Boxer’s male chooses his wife or his mistress.  Maybe the production should be called “three keys to the suite”?


Orange Tree Theatre

Production Notes

Suite in Three Keys 

Written  by Noël Coward

Directed by Tom Littler



Stephen Boxer

Emma Fielding

Tara Fitzgerald



Steffan Rizzi


Director:  Tom Littler

Designer: Louie Whitemore

Lighting Designer: Chris McDonnell

Composer and Sound Designer:

Tom Atwood


Running Time

Double Bill :

Two hours 50 minutes

including an interval

A Song at Twilight :

Two hours 30 minutes 

including an interval


Booking to 6th July 2024


Orange Tree Theatre

1 Clarence Street,




Phone: 020 8940 3633

Rail/Tube: Richmond

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Orange Tree

on 5th June 2024

Stephen Boxer as Verner and Emma Fielding as Anna-Mary. (Photo: Steve Gregson)