DramaReviewSouth East

Private Lives – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.

Writer: Noel Coward

Director: Michael Cabot

Reviewer: Bill Avenell

If Mr. Bridger, the criminal mastermind of the 1968 film The Italian Job, had ever written a play it would have been Private Lives, a clever fantasy about self-centered and thoroughly unpleasant people who don’t get their comeuppance.

Clever it certainly is with much of the witty and pacey dialogue that is so closely associated with Coward’s work on show, but this production, from London Classic Theatre, of one of ‘‘The Master’s’’ best-known plays is a bit too pacey. It must be very difficult as a director to maintain a balance between the delivery and impact of a Coward script and, while Michael Cabot does a good job in the main, some clarity is lost in the pursuit of tempo.

This apart, Cabot gets a pretty good deal out of his actors. It is a tale about a couple from the ‘idle rich’ who, having had a short-lived and tempestuous marriage that ended in an acrimonious divorce, both re-marry only to meet on their honeymoons and begin the whole cycle again, this time with the added complication of two new partners in tow. Helen Keeley is excellent as the inconsistent Amanda Prynne, one moment sexy siren and the next wilful wildcat. She is well matched by Gareth Bennett-Ryan’s unbearably flippant Elyot Chase and the two thoroughly deserve each other. Paul Sandys is a dependably solid and decent, or so we think, new partner for Amanda but Olivia Beardsley never quite pulls off the innocent and wide-eyed replacement Mrs. Chase. On the other hand Rachael Holmes-Brown, in her tiny contribution as the maid, manages in one voluble outburst to convey a wonderful distain for her employers in completely unintelligible French.

Frankie Bradshaw’s set and costume designs establish both scene and period effectively. Initially located in a fashionable Deauville hotel where the minimalist adjoining balconies create a clever background for the subtly dissimilar opening conversations, the action then moves to Amanda’s stylish Paris flat where the real shenanigans take place.

The fact that this production has no star names (unlike the original), throws the spotlight rather more onto Coward’s script and although the setting is dated there is no doubting his cleverness and relevance even in this very light play.

It is a good evening out if you like this kind of thing and it seems to tickle the fancy of the Guildford faithful so if you wish to see what Mr. Bridger might have written, go to the Yvonne Arnaud.

Runs until 20th January 2018 | Image: Contributed

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