Private Lives: Aldeburgh

Private Lives: Noel Coward, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until Saturday, St Edmund's Hall, Southwold, September 6 - 15

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Private Lives: Noel Coward, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until Saturday, St Edmund's Hall, Southwold, September 6 - 15

For the final play of its summer season, the Jill Freud Company has opted for the wit and style of Noel Coward' s classic 1930 bittersweet comedy of manners. It's tightly written, biting, funny, outrageous and with a twist of sadness. The play makes compelling theatre and director Richard Frost's production has pace and passion.

The set-up is as triumphantly contrived as Coward could get away with. Elyot and Amanda (Richard Teverson and Caroline Wildi), once tempestuously married and then bitterly divorced, have remarried five years on. On the first day of their second honeymoons they find themselves not only at the same French resort hotel but in adjoining terrace rooms.

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There's the lovely Casablanca moment when the strains of Some Day I'll Find You rise up from the hotel pianist as they sit back to back on their terraces. After the initial bewildered reaction, they realise they still love each other and flee to Paris together.

As we find out, their relationship is so high voltage that they change almost with the wind from love to hate and back, and from seductive passion to violence.

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It's all deeply satirical of casino playground society in the twenties. They are the self-obsessed moneyed Englanders abroad, conscience-free and entirely oblivious of other people or any conventional morality.

The scenes between the two need to be both raunchy and full-bloodedly roughhouse. Richard Teverson and Caroline Wildi manage that in style. The fight scene when he hits her and she breaks a gramophone record over his head is cleverly choreographed and quite shocking. Elyot's justification, that 'certain women should be struck regularly - like a gong' takes the breath away.

Vapidly, but cleverly, the pair run their thumbs over matters of religion and morality in quite brilliantly acerbic throwaway dialogue. Ultimately, they verge on the tragic as quite pathetically this ageing couple cling on to the moment before 'their bodies rot and the worms pop in and out of their eye sockets'

Jonathan Jones and Celia White are suitably prissy and pompous as the hapless wronged couple.

Maurice Rubens provides an elegant a set, the glitzy terrace contrasting well with the art deco exotica of the Paris flat where we see the private lives played out.

A highly enjoyable show to round off the season.

Ivan Howlett

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