Review by Rick Pryce: Private Lives by Noel Coward, Stables Theatre, July 8-16

Private Lives by Noel Coward
Private Lives by Noel Coward

Private Lives echoes to some extent Coward’s own relationship with actress Gertrude Lawrence and feelings of societal exclusion borne of his preference for male companionship.

It is a bitter-sweet comedy of a couple who cannot find happiness when together or apart, that debuted in 1930 with Noel and Gertrude in the leading roles.

A French hotel in the late 1920s revealed two couples. More light would have been helpful to see those at the edge of the stage but the mood was suitably set.

Elyot (John Ludlam) and Amanda (Heather Alexander) are divorced and have new partners in tow, but across the balcony divide they meet again, and spouses are quickly dumped in favour of the old attraction.

The cuckolded Victor (Mark Pearce) was memorable for his stalwart defence of honour and conservatism in the face of indifference, but while likeable enough, it was hard to believe he was more than a caricature.

Sybil’s (Hannah Wilken) frumpy naivety was more convincing, with a touch of emotion towards the end, and the cameo performance of Louise, (Rosemary McAndrew), as the no nonsense French speaking house maid, was perfect.

The Paris flat set ably withstood various degrees of domestic violence meted out in the course of the evening, but hear a plea from those in the front rows who could not see the actors properly through the balcony.

Private Lives has always required precise casting and direction to find an explosive but engaging alchemy from its protagonist’s relationships.

I was not convinced that the cast had found the right note to interest us in their predicament; Coward’s clever lines made us laugh but the production did not match his mastery.