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Private Lives starring Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers

Some of the sound effects are rather distracting in this production of Private Lives, particularly in the first act: certain lines were in danger of being overwhelmed by the sounds of the sea. I take the view that the script is sufficiently strong to indicate by way of pointing out the characters’ location (for example) that noises of waves and seagulls didn’t really need to be piped into the theatre quite so loudly. Anyway, having gone through the pain of divorce, Elyot (a convincing Nigel Havers) and Amanda (Patricia Hodge) have entered into second marriages, with – respectively – Sybil (Natalie Walter) and Victor (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart).

Patricia Hodge & Nigel Havers, PRIVATE LIVES, credit John Swannell.
Patricia Hodge & Nigel Havers, PRIVATE LIVES, credit John Swannell.

On one level, they’re not exactly ‘once bitten, twice shy’, and it is quite implausible that Elyot and Amanda would find themselves in adjacent hotel rooms on separate honeymoons. But the setup is a vehicle for something much greater: there is the Noël Coward trademark whimsical wit, and there’s also some wry observations on love and life, and how having enough money to live very comfortably still doesn’t solve every personal problem that arises.

The insults that are traded between the ex-lovers are hilarious, and indicative of an era when vocabulary used in anger was far more elaborate than the ‘eff, cee and effing cee’ approach more commonplace these days. The atmosphere becomes nuanced and rich: Elyot and Amanda, who fall out with their new spouses, end up in conversation. The audience ends up hearing pretty much all of it. It is almost a pity that I found myself wanting the pair to lose their tempers, and when Sybil and Victor do just that, the play builds to a satisfying crescendo.

That said, some of the comedy arises from timing. For reasons explained in the narrative, a couple of pauses in the show last considerably longer than usual, and yet there wasn’t a sense of frustration or annoyance that the stage action, and thus the storyline, had come to a temporary halt. All the bickering and hollering might, elsewhere, have made for an exhausting experience – here, as Amanda puts it, it helps to “clear the air”. As I have often said, it is better to leave the audience wanting more than to outlast one’s welcome, and this is a production that did just that.

Aïcha Kossoko has a brief role in the third act (of three), as Louise, a French-speaking maid. As a reminder of how relatively well-off they are, most of the other characters know enough French to interact with Louise at a conversational level. Elyot and Amanda quite literally come to blows at one point, eliciting audible gasps from the audience. A strong cast works wonders to bring a demanding play to life, portraying heightened emotions without overdoing it. A production worth seeing.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Elyot and Amanda, who were once married, find themselves on honeymoon with their new partners, in the same hotel on the French Riviera, admiring the view from adjoining balconies. Their initial horror quickly evaporates and soon they are sharing cocktails. Who knows what the future holds for them now…
The Olivier Award-winning Patricia Hodge, one of the country’s most loved actresses, plays Amanda. Nigel Havers, ever suave and thoroughly charming, plays Elyot, the role taken by Noël Coward himself in the original production in 1930.

Private Lives
at Richmond Theatre from Tuesday 9th to Saturday 13th November, 2021.

Theatre Royal Bath
28 October – 6 November
01225 448844

Richmond Theatre
9 – 13 November
0844 871 7651*

Chichester Festival Theatre
16 – 20 November
01243 781312

Cambridge Arts Theatre
22 – 27 November
01223 503333

Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
17 – 22 January
01227 787787

Hall for Cornwall
25 – 29 January
01872 262466

Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
1 – 5 February
01242 572 573

Torquay Princess Theatre
8 – 12 February
0844 871 7615*

The Lowry
14 – 19 February
0343 208 6000

Sheffield Lyceum
21 – 26 February
0114 249 6000

Oxford Playhouse
28 February – 5 March
01865 305305

Poole Lighthouse
14 – 19 March
01202 280000

Guildford Yvonne Arnaud
21 – 26 March
01483 44 00 00

Norwich Theatre Royal
28 March – 2 April
01603 630 000

Theatre Royal Brighton
11 – 16 April
0844 871 7615*

Nottingham Theatre Royal
18 – 23 April
0115 989 5555

Booking fees may apply. *Calls to 0844 numbers cost up to 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.


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