Private Lives – Review

Private Lives. Images Alastair Muir.
Private Lives. Images Alastair Muir.

Of all the hotels in all the world, just what are the chances of a divorced couple booking adjoining rooms for romantic honeymoons with their new partners?

It’s an amazing co-incidence but then chance plays a huge role in one of Noël Coward’s most successful stage comedies, Private Lives.

Coward can be an acquired taste but, once you’ve tuned in to his rather unique turn of phrase, not to mention the acidic wit which can wither at a dozen paces, his work can be highly enjoyable.

I must admit to being a fan of his work. I rather enjoy men being called cads and bounders and people behaving simply awfully.

Private Lives

His 1930’s hit, Private Lives, was revived by ATG for a national tour and it has proved jolly entertaining with hoofer, Tom Chambers, showing a flair for slapstick.

This comedy of bad manners finishes its tour this week after completing a run at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre and I’d get along sharpish. It is a guilty pleasure.

You have to ask yourself why as its two main characters are absolutely ghastly. Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne are vain, selfish, self-centred and superficial, not to mention violent.

Should we be laughing at domestic abuse? Sorry, but last night’s audience were guffawing the more heated this couple’s relationship became.

Their stormy relationship frequently explodes with blows exchanged, yet, despite everything, love has the ability to conquer all.

Private Lives opens in Deauville where two honeymooning couples find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms. The rather insipid Sibyl (Call The Midwife’s Charlotte Ritchie) is quizzing her new husband, Elyot, about his former marriage to the fire-cracker Amanda.

You can’t warm to Elyot at all. He’s obnoxious, rude, arrogant, and quite clearly doesn’t love Sibyl, yet she is besotted. He’s taken the plunge five years after his divorce from Amanda but goodness knows why.

Moments later we meet the occupants of the adjoining room and – guess what – yes, it’s Amanda with her new, and rather priggish husband, Victor.

'Private Lives

You can pretty much write this story yourself. The interest is in the dynamic of their relationships. The behaviour of Elyot and Amanda is nothing short of shocking and it gets progressively worse.

Their bickering, and making-up, culminates in a wonderfully choreographed fight that sees the couple hurl furniture and each other around an apartment.

Chambers and his co-star, Laura Rogers, as the fiery and scandalous Amanda, put everything into it, throwing vases and ornaments at each other, overturning tables and chairs and leaving a trail of devastation. It must be quite cathartic.

Richard Teverson (so good in Handbagged,) who plays Victor, and Ritchie, have little to do other than bluster and bellow at their spouses’ appalling behaviour – but they do it beautifully.

The 90-minute comedy does flag a little in places. Director Tom Attenborough lets the second act, which sees Elyot and Amanda holed up in a Parisian flat, run on for far too long. The pair are in love, then not, then are, with kisses and barbs traded in equal measure along with copious glasses of brandy and god knows how many cigarettes.

But you leave the theatre thoroughly entertained and amused and you can’t ask for more than that.

Private Lives plays at the Waterside until Saturday.

Review Rating
  • Private Lives
4

Summary

Violent, superficial, and with simply ghastly characters but Noël Coward’s classic comedy, Private Lives, is a riot.

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