Considered Noël Coward’s “masterpiece”, Private Lives revolves around a dysfunctional former couple and their new spouses. Elyot & Amanda have been divorced for five years, when they both end up honeymooning at the same hotel – in adjacent rooms! Everything is fine, and both sets of newlyweds seem settled & happy together. However, before long the inevitable happens and the former Mr & Mrs Chase encounter each other. And from then on everyone’s lives are turned upside down!
Private Lives was first performed at the King’s Theatre (Edinburgh) in 1930, and this stint at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre came near the beginning of a UK tour prior to a West End run.
It is an Art Deco dream. Upon entering the auditorium you are greeted by some classic twenties & thirties music and a gorgeous set: a pair of Deco style balconies. Lucy Osborne’s design is a thing of beauty. Classic geometric style, typical colour scheme, illuminated; a truly aesthetic wonder. It did seem a little flimsy, however, when doors got slammed… The set change (from balcony to Parisian flat) could maybe have been a bit quicker & less obvious, but Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design did a good job of deflecting most of the work going on in the background. The feast for the eyes extends to the costumes, most notably the stunning dress Amanda changes into for dinner.
But that doesn’t mean substance has been sacrificed for style. In the past I’ve not really got on with Coward’s work. Too much melodrama and not enough tangible plot – thankfully in Private Lives I have found the real thing. True, a lot of act one is scene setting so takes a little bit of time to warm up, but from then on it is slick & fast-paced.
The cast of five is perfect.
Victoria Rigby isn’t onstage long, but she does make an hilarious French maid! Remarkably she also understudies both female roles, which must mean she has a lot of work on her hands (oddly there appears to be no male understudy in the company).
Victor Prynne is played admirably by Richard Teverson, as is Sibyl Chase by Charlotte Ritchie. Both characters aren’t especially lovable, as they are pushovers when it comes to their respective partners – and, in the end, act merely as foils to Amanda & Elyot’s exploits. Ritchie’s playfulness does manage to sparkle through in the early stages of the play, and she delivers some of Sibyl’s cattier lines rather brilliantly.
Laura Rogers sizzles as Amanda. She is flirtatious, sassy & very much an independent spirit. Rogers really embraces the physicality incorporated into the role, showing a lot of gusto in Amanda & Elyot’s set-tos.
It is a joy for me to see Tom Chambers in another classic role, even getting the opportunity to use some of his dance skills! Elyot is undoubtedly cruel, but Chambers brings a certain charm to the role that makes him a bit of a lovable rogue. He’s also particularly funny when in “flippant” mode late on – and gets to deliver my favourite line in the show: “Don’t quibble, Sibyl!”
My verdict? An excellent revival of a timeless play, charming and entertaining in equal measure – an enjoyable night out.
Private Lives is on a UK tour until 19 March 2016 (West End transfer details not yet announced). Tickets are available from ATG, except for Theatre Royal Bath dates, or from each theatre’s box office.