You hate him… but, oh, you still love him… Sparks rekindle and – oops – you’ve eloped.
Muddy Hants’ roving theatre writer, Eleanor Marsden, reviews Private Lives by Noel Coward, on at Theatre Royal, Winchester until 4th November and then nationally until 25th November.
Don’t you just hate it when this happens: you’ve just re-married and are sipping a cocktail on honeymoon v.2, when your ex-hubby appears on the next balcony, also honeymooning with his new bride. You hate him… but, oh, you still love him… Sparks rekindle, and – oops! – you’ve eloped to your love nest in Paris.
No, it’s not the plot of the latest Reese Witherspoon rom-com but Noel Coward’s remarkably perceptive 1930 comedic look at dysfunctional relationships and the superficiality of society – served with lashings of wit and more than a little sauciness.
The play’s references to making love and bouncing on divans were deemed frightfully risqué at the time, and you know what they say about bad publicity… No surprises then that Private Lives has rarely been off-stage since it premiered in 1930; you might even recognise a catch-phrase or two (“Very flat, Norfolk!”), and whilst modern directors often cut the more obscure period-elements, it remains fresh, funny — with a whiff of raciness.
London Classic Theatre have been touring the UK since 1993 and this particular revival has attracted audiences across the country since the start of September. Director Michael Cabot has a young and energetic cast – anything less than real verve kills Coward’s text dead – and creates a simply-designed but effective thirties world showcasing the linguistic (and physical) sparring to great effect.
Divorced couple Elyot (Jack Hardwick) and Amanda (Helen Keeley) have to carry the play and do so with chemistry and pace.
Their erstwhile second spouses Sybil (Olivia Beardsley) and Victor (Kieran Buckeridge) support admirably as foils to the will-they-won’t-they couple’s escapades. All the actors – including the thankless walk-on part of the French maid, Louise (Rachael Holmes-Brown) — do justice to Coward’s quick-fire repartee; on a few occasions, though, the leading ladies’ dialogue was so fast that the meaning was lost.
Keeley brought a Sheridan-Smith-style coquettishness to the part of Amanda, with Hardwick bringing depth to the often one-dimensional role of Elyot. Buckeridge, too, enlivened the staid Victor and made it his own, as did Beardsley to Sybil, although her affected speech was increasingly shrill by Act Two.
The production is visually appealing in pastels and browns for the cuckolded spouses and vivid Deco hues for Amanda and Elyot’s racy, modern relationship.
Some interesting production choices may have resulted from the company’s adapting to the new space, but could have been rectified: a real mirror which reflected back the lighting rig; the lighting design which occasionally left characters in part shadow; and a rather abrupt ending.
Apart from these minor comments, the production was extremely good. It is a shame that the company will be competing with Firework Night this weekend, but if you’d rather poke your eye out with a toffee apple than brave the crowds and loud bangs — here’s your alternative.
You can catch the tour around the South until 25th November, sparks will definitely be flying until then.