Theatre Review: Private Lives

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green sees an enjoyable revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives at the Gielgud Theatre, West End. sparring 30s couple unable to live together or apart are back as Noel Coward’s brittle, witty comedy of manners Private Lives, which was a big hit at last year’s Chichester Festival Theatre, arrives in the West End (Gielgud Theatre) in an enjoyable revival, directed by Jonathan Kent.

Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne are glamorous, rich, reckless and divorced when they take adjoining suites in a Deauville hotel with their new spouses, Sibyl and Victor. The chance encounter after an absence of five years instantly reignites their passion and they fling themselves headlong into a whirlwind of love and lust once more, without a thought for partners present or turbulences past.

This is a lightweight work but also the Coward play that is most often revived and it is not hard to see why as he seamlessly combines brutally sophisticated elegance of expression with an affecting depth of feeling. Kent’s great achievement here is to make the play seem as fresh and funny as when it was first written, although I feel the Second Act set in Amanda’s flat in Paris is rather drawn out with the comedy played to the hilt. charm and power of this production, however, lies in the accomplished central performances. Toby Stephens strikes precisely the right role as Elyot, serious, without being earnest and playful without being trivial. Anna Chancellor seems to have been born to play the role of his ex-wife Amanda, conveying a mix of imperious elegance and bohemian weariness, with more than the odd touch of slinky danger. Indeed the chemistry between the two actors proves spectacularly combustible as they exude a sense of unrestrained intimacy and desire. Fine support is provided by Anna-Louise Plowman (Toby Stephens’s wife in real life) and Anthony Calf as Elyot’s wide-eyed, blustering wife Sibyl and Amanda’s pompous new husband Victor respectively.

A further word of praise must be given to Anthony Ward for his elegant designs of the stylish, adjoining balconies at the French hotel and the gorgeous, gilded art deco hideaway of the Paris apartment.

In short then this is a slick assured production of a play that still has the power to thrill, provoke and delight in equal measure.

Runs until September 21

Box office: 0844 482 5130

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