Review: Private Lives


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Private Lives


REVIEW: Private Lives by Noel Coward performed by the London Classic Theatre Co. Theatre Royal, Winchester – (and now nationally until 25th November.)

Forget Fireworks Night – Eleanor Marsden watches some sparks fly onstage! Images by Sheila Burnett       

You know the feeling: You’re sipping a cocktail on your honeymoon in Deauville when your ex-spouse appears on the adjoining balcony, celebrating their own nuptials. Sparks rekindle, and suddenly you’ve eloped together to Paris…

No, it’s not another episode of Jeremy Kyle but Noel Coward’s remarkably perceptive 1930 comedic look at dysfunctional relationships and the superficiality of society – all served with lashings of wit and more than a little sauciness.

Private Lives

References to “bouncing about on divans” and “being made love to” caused the play to be deemed very risqué almost as soon as it was written, yet Private Lives has seemingly been played somewhere in the globe ever since the time of its writing. Many of its phrases have entered general parlance (“Very flat, Norfolk!”) and whilst some of the elements which Coward wrote in for actors and audiences of the time tend to be cut for today’s audiences, it remains a fresh, funny and with a slight whiff of raciness.

London Classic Theatre has been touring the UK since 1993 and this particular revival has been attracting audiences up and down 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 30s world where the linguistic (and physical) sparring can be snappily showcased.

Private Lives

Divorced couple Elyot (Jack Hardwick) and Amanda (Helen Keeley) have to carry the play and do so admirably, with chemistry and pace; their erstwhile second spouses Sybil (Olivia Beardsley) and Victor (Kieran Buckeridge) supporting admirably as foils to the will-they-won’t-they couple’s escapades.

Private Lives

All the actors – including the thankless walk-on part of the French maid, Louise (Rachael Holmes-Brown) did justice to Coward’s quick-fire repartee; the leading ladies, however, did on occasion have a tendency to fire out their words so fast that the meaning was occasionally lost. Keeley brought a Sheridan-Smith-style coquettishness to the part of Amanda, with Hardwick managing to bring depth to the often one-dimensional role of Elyot. Buckeridge, too, enlivened the staid role of Victor and made it his own, as did Beardsley to Sybil, however her affected speech was increasingly shrill by Act two.

Private Lives

The production is visually very appealing in pastels and browns for the cuckolded spouses and vivid Deco hues for Amanda and Elyot’s racy, modern relationship.  A couple of interesting production choices – a real mirror which reflected back the lighting rig; the lighting design which occasionally left characters in part shadow and a rather abrupt ending – may of course have resulted from the company’s adapting to the new space of their tour, but should have been rectified.

Apart from such minor comments, however, overall the production was extremely good.  The opening night audience laughed appreciatively and the entire play was most enjoyable.

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