Home » London Theatre Reviews » Noël Coward’s Private Lives at Lauderdale House | Review

Noël Coward’s Private Lives at Lauderdale House | Review

Private Lives
Private Lives

Just as Noel Coward was, Lauderdale House in North London has been many things in the course of its life: private residence, posh school, Quaker meeting place, hospital and, for the past forty years, an arts and education centre. When he preached here in 1782, John Wesley called it one of the most elegant boarding houses in England.

A strangely apt setting therefore for the Deauville Hotel where in 1930 we find Coward’s quartet of embattled newlyweds. This being an open-air production, the house is as much the backdrop as the theatre of conflict. It is one of several such settings, including Harlington Manor in Bedfordshire, at which the Shooting Stars Theatre Company is presenting the play in the course of the summer. Again like Coward, Lauderdale House flaunts itself tastefully as the evening and the plot darken and the cast project boldly above the traffic of Highgate Hill.

To see this energetic production – not so much a revival as a continuation of the play’s life – is to be reminded of the angry young man that Coward was, thirty years before that term was coined. For the theme of this passionate piece is the ludicrous nature of marriage, or at least the behaviour of individuals, English individuals naturally, when they enrol in such an institution. By extension, it is a (forgive the Frenchisms) cri de coeur against all manner of social and moral constraint. It is made with the seriousness which sometimes only comedy can manage, by a writer supposedly suffering from la maladie anglaise (homosexuality).

It’s a play that makes heavy demands and offers proportionate rewards to its four almost co-leads. Chemistry, a word that had yet to infiltrate the language of emotion, is the key. In this respect, Joe Sargent’s Elyot and Stacey Leeson’s Amanda are handsomely endowed as they rediscover each other several years after their divorce by honeymooning in neighbouring suites with their new spouses.

Again well before its time, the play goes all Burton-and Taylor, that is, demonstrating the glorious unmanageability of love and sex when your other half has become so temptingly unavailable through remarriage. Though no drug addict himself, Coward had already handled the matter of illicit pleasure-seeking in The Vortex, with its portrayal of a cocaine-hooked young man.

For Shooting Stars, Jonas Cemm’s witty direction makes it plain that we are to enjoy the smashes and the backhands of this love tennis, much as we might savour a feisty match, or mismatch of mixed doubles. There was always the problem of what to do with the two jilted parties, Victor and Sybil, while their respective spouses are locked in noisy bouts of rekindling. To their credit, they are not going to be tidied away without a fight of their own.

Fortunately, he has Katherine Moran and Tim Larkfield in the parts, she the closet tigress, he her counterpart victim, dull but not entirely decent and, like her, getting the ranting habit once love, whatever that is, puts in an appearance.

Catching them at it, particularly here in the idyllic rus-in-urbe of Waterlow Park, makes you think that Coward himself, young as he then was, had no idea what it was, or is. What he did know was that you probably weren’t going to find it (love, that is) without also stubbing your toe on something hard, yelling like hell and for some reason making everyone laugh.

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Franks

This year’s Theatre on the Tea Lawn performance is Private Lives, Noël Coward’s classic comedy of passion, romance, anger, laughter and love… The stage is set for a battle of the sexes when divorced couple, Amanda and Elyot, find themselves unwittingly thrown together again. Bring a picnic and enjoy the wit of one of England’s most famous playwrights whilst relaxing in the summer sunshine!

18 Jul 2018 – 29 Jul 2018
Lauderdale House Waterlow Park, Highgate Hill, N6 5HG London


  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.org/

    View all posts

1 thought on “Noël Coward’s Private Lives at Lauderdale House | Review”

  1. Just been to see this … thoroughly enjoyed it and all in it were fabulous. It was such a beautiful warm evening and it was glorious to sit outside and watch this beautifully presented play with such good actors … a real treat!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top