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18 Coward elevated the fashionable slang, with its gushing epithets like 'divine' and its casual endearments like 'darling' into a language; it expressed not just a new and more permissive attitude to relationships but a clear-sighted cynicism about the world. In one of the most popular plays of a previous generation, Maugham's Lady Frederick, the heroine's central gesture had caused a sensation: she had shown herself to her naive young admirer without make-up and destroyed his illusions for his own good.

Coward then goes on to outline the main relationships: we meet Florence and her young lover, Tom, already a little embarrassed by her; we see her dull-but-decent husband and their son Nicky, who has just returned from Paris. We meet Nicky's fiancee, Bunty, and the curtain falls on a Pinero-like revelation that Tom and Bunty 'used to know one another awfully well'. The second act finds all the characters in Florence's country house and here Coward springs a series of surprises, again in the Pinero tradition.

Only one real 'incident' occurs, when one man shoots his rival in love; characteristically, it is placed well into the third act, almost by the way. But in fact SemiMonde is very precisely crafted and controlled. Through the apparently aimless chat he charts a number of stories in 45 Noel Coward detail; we see love affairs blossom and die; a young woman grows from naive teenager to gold-digger; a group of women form complex alliances and intrigues over their various lovers; a young couple, Owen and Tanis, plan to be 'awfully true' to one another: they meet a novelist and his daughter and their relationship becomes painful and complicated.

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