Private Lives

©Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It goes to show that a good joke will always stand the test of time, funny is funny, no matter if it’s a gag told today, or one well over 90 years old and judging by the reaction of the audience tonight, they lapped up the sly asides, and caustic put downs of Noel Coward’s Private Lives which gets another run 92 years after it was first performed.

Private Lives is the debut production of the Nigel Havers Theatre Company. It seems fitting that Havers should turn out for his first production along with the theatrical force of nature that is Patricia Hodge. They play former sweethearts Elyot and Amanda. Long divorced, the pair find themselves honeymooning at the same time. Elyot with his new bride, Sybil whilst Amanda is with new husband, Victor. Not only are they at the same hotel, but they are also neighbours as they share a balcony.

As Elyot and Amanda reconnect again it’s apparent that the spark between them is still there, however if the passion is still there, so are the reasons the couple separated – jealousy and petty squabbles. As Elyot and Amanda decide to elope to Paris and give their relationship one more chance, what will become of them and their jilted partners?

Havers is clearly having a ball as the ‘cad’ Elyot, a role he was born to play – a chance to flex his comedic muscles. Throughout tonight’s performance on several occasions, it looked like he was going to burst out laughing, which somewhat added to the charm, and all done with a twinkle in the eyes. Equally good is Hodge, who gets the lion’s share of the best lines which she delivers with acerbic glee. The pair have tremendous chemistry together and great comic timing.

They are supported by the equally impressive Natalie Walter, as Sybil and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s Victor as the suitably irritating jilted other halves. Despite being ‘the other ones’ in this quadratic formula, Walter’s Sybil is naive yet spirited. Whilst Bruce-Lockhartas’ Victor comes across as a decent yet insecure chap. For the production to work you have to care about all four characters which you do, despite their many (many) flaws.

In addition, there is a scene stealing cameo by Aïcha Kossoko as the french speaking maid Louise, who adds to the chaos.

When Noel Coward wrote Private Lives in 1930, he saw himself in the lead playing alongside a contemporary of his, Gertrude Lawrence. At the time of writing Coward was 30, clearly this production sees our characters at more advanced stages of their lives. The change works tremendously well as there is an added ‘‘growing old disgracefully’ dynamic to proceedings whilst also proving that no matter how old we get we can all still drop a ‘clanger’ from time-to-time.

There is a sixth character and that is the fabulous set design of Simon Higlett. There are two settings the production, the first being hotel exterior, complete with a balcony which Higlett has managed to resemble the tier of rather garish wedding cake. The second is a beautiful, luxury apartment in Paris.

The production does have its flaws; two scenes where the warring couples strike each other seems out-of-place, even if played out for comedic effect. On the whole, an interesting examination of the perils and pitfalls of relationships. A superbly acted, polished, fun night at the theatre, and a cautionary tale that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Private Lives is at the Lowry until 19th February. Tickets available here.

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