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Private Lives

I’ve not been to the theatre for a while – they didn’t have anything particularly interesting on over the summer. But now that the schools have gone back, and the autumn season at the theatre has started, there’s a few things coming up that look interesting. Last week’s offering was Private Lives by Noël Coward. I’ve seen the play before, years ago, but decided it was worth a revisit, so bought myself a standby ticket to the matinée performance.

The first Act is set on a pair of hotel balconies in the South of France, in the early 1930s judging by the costumes. One room is occupied by newly-weds Elyot and Sybil, and the other by Amanda and Victor, also on their honeymoon. Elyot and Amanda were previously married for a highly volatile three years and subsequently divorced. They meet, unseen by their new partners, and of course the old attraction raises its head again. They realise that they can’t live without each other, but argue so much (and so violently) that they can’t live with each other either.

The plot is paper-thin. Even if I hadn’t seen it before, I could have guessed that Elyot and Amanda would run off together, and be pursued back to Amanda’s Parisian flat by their wronged spouses Sybil and Victor. The success of the play depends purely on the chemistry between the actors, and whether they are able to master Coward’s studiously witty and quick-fire dialogue. This lot managed pretty well, though they cantered through the lines at top speed and sometimes stumbled a bit as a result. It perhaps didn’t help that the play was just starting its run, and the performance I saw was just the second one – presumably things will tighten up a bit as it continues on tour. 

Overall though, I thought it was a pretty successful revival of a theatrical classic, and made for an enjoyable afternoon.