‘Making Dickie Happy’ is a smart piece of speculative biography, in which writer Jeremy Kingston fixes up a fictional meeting between Noël Coward and Agatha Christie, ensconced together in a bijou hotel on the Devonshire isle of Burgh. Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten is there too, away for one last jolly before his marriage of convenience, and he has a cracking idea for Christie’s new story.
Kingston has slotted the pieces together neatly, with his celebrity supergroup wittily batting around the concept of betrayal and treachery – to oneself, one’s art or one’s family. He has even unearthed a long-lost Coward song, a middling fragment named ‘Devon’, to top his confection off.
The dialogue is consistently witty, but the drama lacks friction and drive: everyone’s fucking each other or has fucked each other, but the sexual tension feels limp and the stakes low.
A centrepiece conversation between Coward and Christie stands out as a clear highlight, with Phineas Pett finally settling into the role of the master raconteur after a shaky first act, and the remarkable Helen Duff shining as Christie. Duff’s performance is enthralling throughout, delicate, nuanced and highly intelligent. ‘Making Dickie Happy’ burns like a cigarette, slowly and evenly, with a pleasing glow but no pyrotechnics. Stewart Pringle