Private Lives – Festival Theatre, Malvern

Writer: Nöel Coward

Director: Michael Cabot

Reviewer: David Robinson

A play by the inimitable and classy Noel Coward is a commendable and belated addition to the distinguished catalogue of productions from London Classic Theatre. He suits their style and approach to high tone like a perfectly tailored silky black tuxedo.

Private Lives, first produced in 1930 opened to mixed reviews, and after enjoying a small provincial tour began a successful run at the newly opened Phoenix Theatre in London’s Charing Cross Road. It is, in essence, a comedy of manners and strained relations for a tightly knit cast of four and was written by Coward as a vehicle for himself to perform alongside his chums Gertrude Lawrence, Laurence Olivier and Adrianne Allen. It has been revived on numerous occasions both here and on Broadway, and then and now relies solely on the chemistry of the quartet.

Act one opens on a couple of hotel balconies in the South of France, one room is occupied by newly- weds Elyot and Sybil the other by Amanda and Victor, also on their honeymoon. Elyot and Amanda were married for a volatile three years and subsequently divorced. We see them meet again in the Mediterranean moonlight across their adjacent balconies, and of course unseen by their new partners. Elyot and Amanda’s stormy relationship is rekindled and they dash off to Paris, closely pursued in Acts two and three by the disgruntled Sybil and Victor.

Director Michael Cabot releases his quartet at a break neck speed: the four runners canter through the dialogue, at times rather breathlessly. Coward would commend the tempo but what they gain through the gallop they at times lose. When it comes to clarity and diction an occasional trot may be well-deserved by the cast and audience, particularly in a rather short first act.

Helen Keeley as Amanda shines in the moonlight and captures the Coward wit and poise to perfection, the explosive argument with Elyot (Jack Hardwick) in her Paris apartment is a ticking delight. Hardwick too is a cool and comfortable Elyot with a charm that captivates. Olivia Beardsley and Kieran Buckeridge fight hard to ensure that Sybil and Victor are much more than puppets that have their strings pulled by the other duo for comic effect. They both create some very riotous moments and hold the Coward style throughout with great sophistication and humour. The switch of set from hotel balcony to chic Paris apartment is deftly achieved by Frankie Bradshaw’s smart designs, the Parisian flat, in particular, looking tasteful and understated, complete with a very generous drinks trolley.

The chemistry between the four works and produces a pleasurable cocktail. The production allows Coward to shine brightly and with some adjustments to the cantering, the wit will be allowed to sparkle blissfully.

Runs until 9 September 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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