Private Lives ‘a fitting tribute to Coward’
- Credit: Tristram Kenton
Private Lives is Noel Coward’s most performed play. If you have never seen it – or you have seen it 20 times, this version will delight you.
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers, have the elegance, the panache, the comic timing and the chemistry between them to add new depth to a comedy about a couple who cannot live with or without each other.
As soon as he comes on stage, Nigel Havers with his suave poise gets a laugh at every line. Patricia Hodge’s performance, like his, is adroit, nuanced, funny and lovely – we also discover that she has a beautiful singing voice.
We are completely convinced that these two have been married – and always will be in spirit.
Coward’s characters, Amanda (Latin for she who must be loved) and Elyot had a tempestuous marriage. They were simply, as they say, too much in love. Every suspicion, every hiccup, caused a storm - which finally drove them to divorce.
We meet them five years on when they are each about to begin their honeymoon with a new partner. Two characters this similar would of course have chosen the same destination.
The stage is open to show designer Simon Higlett’s stunning set of a pretty pink and white hotel on the French coast. Amanda and Elyot come out onto adjoining balconies.
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As each one sits down, unknowingly back-to-back to enjoy the view, a tune played evokes memories – and they sing along to it.
After initial indignation that the other has appeared at this most inopportune moment, they realise they are still in love.
What fools they were to break up, they say – over petty jealousies. But if they still nurture a passion for each other, they also retain an absolute compulsion to argue at every instant.
Is this a relationship of fireworks– or what happens when you throw the whole box on the fire?
And when they decide, swept away in joyous rapture, to run off together what happens to the abandoned newly weds?
Sweet Sibyl, played by Natalie Walter and substantial Victor (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) are no slouches – they too will stand up for themselves.
Slickly directed by Christopher Luscombe, this is the first play to be staged by the new Nigel Havers Theatre Company. It is a fitting tribute to Coward, revered in his day as “The Master.” Hodge and Havers are a tour de force.
Private Lives is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 27.