Writer: Noel Coward
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
According to Noel Coward there are no limits to the depravity to which, if circumstances allow, we might descend in ourPrivate Lives. Divorced couple Elyot (Harry Long) and Amanda (Fiona Hampton) had a tempestuous marriage in which physical violence from both parties was a feature. Both have now remarried but when they meet on honeymoon it rapidly becomes apparent that their mutual attraction remains.
Noel Coward’s plays are so witty that they can seduce actors into simply revelling in the dialogue and delivering arch, knowing performances. Director Elizabeth Newman avoids such a lazy approach finding humanity in characters who are pretty hard to like. The result is a refreshingly tender production. Harry Long shows the more sensitive side of the cynical Elyot wistfully humming the couple’s favourite tune. Although none of the wit is lost Long suggests a bruised romantic rather than a bitter cynic.
You could never mistake Fiona Hampton’s Amanda for a victim. There is the hunger of a preying mantis about Amanda and Hampton makes clear that she is every bit Elyot’s equal in passion and temper. If anything Amanda seems more reckless than Elyot –cheerfully dancing in the early hours of the morning.
Newman makes us care about the characters while also giving a tantalising glimpse into their posh lifestyle. Any sense of the stale decadence of the over-privileged is avoided. Elyot and Amanda have the vibrant excitement of youth as they discuss the latest innovations. Their luxurious way of life is portrayed in an understated manner via Amanda Stoodley’s stylish art-deco set. Elyot and Amanda enjoy, but do not flaunt, their wealth.
The mismatch between Elyot and Amanda and their new partners is subtly demonstrated.Jessica Baglow’s Sibyl, blonde and brightly dressed, has a gauche quality compared to the sleek silk-clad Amanda. Niall Costigan’s blustering Victor is no match for Elyot’s eloquence and charm. There is an undertone of nihilism in Coward’s script with both Elyot and Amanda professing their lack of belief in heaven and hell. The antics of the couple have a restless feel as if constantly trying to fill a spiritual void.
The credit for Terry King as fight director seems out of place in a Noel Coward play; but as the fracas (thank you Mr. Clarkson) between Elyot and Amanda is a comic highpoint it is certainly deserved.
Private Livesis outside the Octagon’s comfort zone of American and Lancashire classics. It is probably too soon to guess whether this is an indication of the direction Elizabeth Newman, as new artistic director, will be taking the company but this sparkling production suggests that it will be well worth keeping an eye on developments.
Runs until 18 April