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BWW Review: PRIVATE LIVES, Richmond Theatre


Noel Coward's sparkling comedy has an entertaining revival by Nigel Havers' new theatre company

BWW Review: PRIVATE LIVES, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: PRIVATE LIVES, Richmond Theatre Private Lives is often considered Noel Coward's masterpiece: an elegantly acerbic commentary on the relationships and morality of society's upper classes. Both scathing and witty, its warmth is cut through with an icy centre of cruelty. Nigel Havers has chosen the show as the inaugural production for his newly-founded theatre company and it now arrives in Richmond on a national tour.

On adjoining hotel balconies in Deauville, a divorced husband and wife meet for the first time in five years. Elyot and Amanda are honeymooning with their new spouses, but impulsively decide they want to be reunited. When they disappear to Paris, their rekindled relationship quickly becomes consumed by insecurity and forgotten tensions. Unsurprisingly, the consequences and emotional fallout are far-reaching for everyone involved.

Nigel Havers is a good fit for the self-obsessed character of Elyot. He is suitably suave and slick, with an undercurrent of cruelty and downright rudeness. He has very fluid movement around the stage, but may be that Havers is more used to working in television studios these days, as his projection is often a little weak.

Patricia Hodge is the standout as Amanda. She is poised, elegant and provides a magnetic presence. It is easy to see why Elyot would be captivated by her, despite her ultimate emptiness. Hodge has a real charm to her performance, showing that she is more than a match for the bullying Elyot, but also balances her performance with real feeling.

Natalie Walter is Elyot's nice-but-dim new wife Sybil. She is both naïve and clingy, with an understandable insecurity about her new husband. However, Walter pitches her voice so high and plays up the stupidity of the character to such an extent that it is hard to feel very much sympathy for her.

Duglad Bruce-Lockhart's Victor is necessarily dull, but is also likeable and brings spirit to the second half when he squares up to Elyot.

Coward's script is full of caustic wit and sparkling dialogue; to make it come to life, the actors need to have chemistry. Christopher Luscombe's direction shows the ebb and flow as Havers and Hodge bicker and bitch, demonstrating neatly how they are sucked into a continuous cycle of hatred and passion. This is a war of words that quickly becomes a rather weak physical brawl, which needs tighter choreography and more vigour to be convincing.

Simon Higlett's design looks beautiful, opening with ornate wrought-iron balconies and stripy awnings of the honeymoon hotel, bathed in subtly changing light. It's a pity that the sounds of the seagulls and hotel band tend of overwhelm the actors' speech. Amanda's Parisian flat is lush, with lovely Art Deco detailing and luxurious furniture.

Despite a few weaknesses, there is much to enjoy about this very attractive revival, but it is Hodges' wonderful performance that is worth the ticket.

Private Lives is at Richmond Theatre until 13 November

Photo Credit: Tristam Kenton

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan