Private Lives

Noël Coward
London Classic Theatre
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Helen Keeley and Jack Hardwick Credit: Sheila Burnett

The dialogue may be of its time but LCT’s touring production of Private Lives reminds that dysfunctional relationships are perennial.

Dashed off in four days flat and written as a vehicle for Noël Coward to perform with his chums Laurence Olivier, Gertrude Lawrence and Adrianne Allen, the short, tight piece relies heavily on the chemistry. And boy does that chemistry fizz between divorcees glamorous fireball Amanda (Helen Keeley) and debonair hot stuff Elyot (Jack Hardwick).

Their volatile three-year marriage exploded in acrimony some five years previously, and both have moved on to new, rather insipid, partners. Inadvertently honeymooning at the same time, in the same place, it is inevitable that sparks will fly. A slightly clunky but quickfire rapport fans the flames as failings are dissected, blame is apportioned, emotions smoulder, cocktails are shared… and old passions reignite.

Burning desire overwhelms and seizing the day (as was the wont of 1930s bright young things), the duo runs away to Paris leaving gawky Sibyl (Olivia Beardsley) and poker-faced Victor (Kieran Buckeridge) raking over the ashes of failed marriage and setting off in hot pursuit of the incendiary couple. And so ends the rather short act one.

Frankie Bradshaw’s Parisian apartment is perfect with gramophone, chaise longue, cushions and overstuffed drinks trolley which is hit hard as the tempestuous lovers flirt, shoot each other down in flames, love and hate. Doors slam, maids despair and abandoned spouses chase passion.

Witty ripostes amuse, domestic violence shocks ("women should be struck regularly like gongs"!) and director Michael Cabot keeps things pacey and punchy.

Great fun and competently handled.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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