Writer: Noel Coward
Director: Michael Cabot
Reviewer: Simon Topping
Welcome to the singular wit of Noel Coward. Written in a matter of days, post flu and in a flurry of creative abandonment, Coward’s Private Lives has remained one of his most popular and reproduced plays since its inception in 1930. The piece explores the infuriating and intense nature of love. It is a battle of the sexes and seeks to cuts through the conventions and social rituals by which people presents their “public” self to the world .
The play starts with newlywed couple Amanda (deftly played by Helen Keeley) and Victor on the balcony of their hotel room. Nearing the verge of being able to enjoy a relaxing honeymoon, Amanda discovers, to her horror, that her ex-husband, Elyot, is occupying the adjoining room with his new bride, Sybil. After the initial shock, the passionate desire between the ex-lovers (which lacks in their new romances) rekindles leading to all kinds of trouble, confusion and an elopement. But will it last?
There is some fabulous farcical physicality in all the performances. The posturing fight scene between Victor (Paul Sandys) and the louche and aloof Elyot (Gareth Bennett-Ryan) particularly raises a laugh, with Paul perfectly capturing the pomposity of the small man syndrome archetype so often portrayed in British comedy over the years. Olivia Beardsley (Sybil) has excellent comedy timing and plays her role somewhere between a young Maggie Smith and Bluebottle from the goons. Her facial expressions and movement are worthy of comparison to a number of Victoria Wood’s imaginative character creations.
In Act two, the introduction of a cantankerous French maid (played with excellent deadpan aplomb by Rachael Holmes-Brown) who takes no nonsense from the entitled English couples, wonderfully contrasts the high energy and heightened performances of the central characters.
There are flashes of light-hearted domestic abuse which don’t really sit well with a modern audience in a comedic play. Neither does the accusation from Elyot to Amanda that she is “just a woman” and is not entitled to do as a man does; which gets audible boos and indignant gasps from the Worthing crowd.
Despite the outdated feel of the play, the production’s pace and performances do justice to the wit of Coward and capture well the suffocation of what it is like to both love and hate the person you are with.
On tour until 21st April 2018 | Image: Contributed