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Private Lives

Noël Coward
Lyceum Theatre Company
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

John Hopkins as Elyot Chase and Kirsty Besterman as Amanda Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
John Hopkins as Elyot Chase and Kirsty Besterman as Amanda Prynne Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Emily Woodward as Sybil Chase, John Hopkins as Elyot Chase, Kirsty Besterman as Amanda Prynne and Ben Deery as Victor Prynne Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

A refreshing production: the sets are large and airy, there are two intervals for drinks and the cast are quick with the dialogue and light on their feet.

Francis O'Connor's sets and costumes embrace the styles of the 1930s in all their Art Deco modernism. The symmetrical hotel exterior of the first act stretches up to a vanishing point in the heavens with angular grace, while the interior of second and third acts is a shirne to avant-garde furniture.

Added to this are a backdrop of swaying palms for the first act and the skyline of Paris for the second and third, creating the perfect setting for the romantic farce of Coward's play.

The cast are young, not for the parts as they were originally written, but compared to actors who have often been cast in the roles. This allows for perhaps a degree more physical comedy, particularly in the very energetic fight between Amanda (Kirsty Besterman) and Elyot (John Hopkins) in the second act. It really looked like someone was going to get hurt.

Having two proper intervals not only provides the audience with a break but perhaps more importantly the actors, giving them a chance to recharge before the next 'bout' effectively. Where tragedy perhaps needs longer periods to escalate the drama, comedy works very well in short, energetic bursts.

Elyot and Amanda are a couple who have divorced and both remarried. By a horrible coincidence they find themselves in neighbouring apartments on this, their second honeymoon. Their new spouses Sybil (Emily Woodward) and Victor (Ben Deery) seem at first to be much saner and less interesting than Elyot and Amanda. However they show they can be equally crazy and aggressive in the third act.

Being a Coward play, it's all about the witty one-liners. The cast are quick and clever: Hopkins's Elyot in a breezy, laidback way while Besterman's Amanda in a dry, more cynical way, while Woodward and Deery have fun being rather hysterical and rather square, respectively.

The play might seem a complete change from the Lyceum's last production, Long Days Journey Into Night, which though cut was quite long and no comic relief at all, just disease, drudgery and drug addiction. There is one aspect both shows share: they both have Nicola Roy as a maid. In Private Lives she swaps an Irish accent for a French one, with a lot less subtly, and receives a lot more well-deserved, laughs.

Aside from the fighting, perhaps the best moment is all four characters wedged onto the sofa trying to drink coffee and be polite despite all that has happened, the visual comedy complementing Coward's clever conversation.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin