Review: Private Lives by Noel Coward at Colchester Mercury until June 4.
- Credit: Archant
It is doubtful if Coward would like this version of the rather good play he dashed off in three days while suffering flu in Shanghai in the 1930s. Director Esther Richardson has set out to give it a more modern feel without interfering too much with the text and in this she has largely succeeded.
She has, however, pitched the tone a touch too sharply here and there and lost some of the subtlety and sophisticated rhythm of the piece but it is nevertheless still very funny – sometimes funnier, I suspect, than originally played – and well worth a visit.
Even after all these years it must be challenging playing Elyot, the part Coward wrote for himself, and trying to make sure you don’t sound anything like the way he sounded and Pete Ashmore certainly doesn’t. He winds up Elyot to a fever pitch quite early in the first act and hardly ever comes down but his scenes with Krissi Bohn as an excellent Amanda are often great fun.
It’s a lovely idea having a divorced couple meeting up again after a gap of five years on adjacent hotel balconies while on honeymoon with new spouses. And then having them realise that they are still so madly in love that they race off disgracefully into the night without a word to their new partners.
At first they live merrily in sin, as Amanda puts it, in her rather splendid Paris apartment which has been beautifully realised by Sara Perks’ lovely set with its grand piano, double bed and cool furniture.
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But we quickly discover why Elyot and Amanda broke up in the first place. They may be fiercely attracted to the point where they can’t keep their hands off one another but they also rub each other up in quite the wrong way and fight like cat and dog.
Their less than private lives cascade constantly into explosions of suspicion and jealousy halted only by fits of intimacy.They have a lulu of a brawl at the end of act one that almost literally brings the house down
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Their forsaken spouses, Victor and Sybil, seeking some answers, eventually find them and, in a clever Coward twist, they discover for themselves a little of the love-hate insanity that afflicts the couple they have been chasing. They are strongly played by Robin Kingsland and Olivia Onyehara.
Christine Absalom, a one-time regular at the Mercury, makes a welcome return as Amanda’s maid. She has two short scenes and turns the second one, serving morning coffee to four sleep-deprived stressed people, into a quiet little act of comic delight to round off an entertaining night.