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Stage Dragon Review: Private Lives At The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 24 Mar, 2022
Updated on: 25 Mar, 2022

By Ferenc Hepp

There are not many more combinations as perfect for an Yvonne Arnaud Theatre audience as a Noel Coward comedy starring Nigel Havers. And that is what’s on offer this week in the form of the five star inaugural production of Private Lives by The Nigel Havers Theatre Company.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noel Coward, directed by Christopher Luscombe. ©Tristram Kenton.

This play, directed here by Christopher Luscombe, is described as a comedy of manners from 1930, and it was written by Coward for himself and Gertrude Lawrence, a close friend, to fulfil a promise.

It had its first performance at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh on August 18, 1930, followed by a London premiere later that year at the new Phoenix Theatre, starring Coward and Lawrence in the leading roles.

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Natalie Walter in Private Lives by Noel Coward. ©Tristram Kenton.

We find ourselves in Deauville, France, and Elyot (Nigel Havers) honeymooning with Sibyl (Natalie Walter), next door to the other couple, Victor (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Amanda (Patricia Hodge).

However, Elyot and Amanda used to be married and little did they realise that they were going to be accommodated in adjacent rooms. The first meeting between Elyot and Amanda happens on the balconies, where all of Act One takes place, and it is a moment we all highly anticipate knowing the premise of the story.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Haver in Private Lives by Noel Coward. ©Tristram Kenton.

It is executed brilliantly and with plenty of humour from both veteran actors, with Hodge seeing more of the funny side and Havers in complete shock.

Even if you are not familiar with the story, it is clear that the new marriages are not quite right, and as soon as the original couple meet again, it is as if they never parted.

They eventually agree on a plan to run away to Amanda’s flat in Paris as they realise that they need to be back together, as Elyot’s line suggests “In my deepest heart I want you back”, so we leave Deauville behind at the end of Act One.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noel Coward. ©Tristram Kenton.

We have the pleasure in seeing two highly experienced stage actors giving a classy performance with plenty of laughter, but more credit should also be given to Bruce-Lockhart and Walter, who take a rather poor second place in the publicity.

As Victor and Sibyl, they are more superficial in character and appear more stereotypical of that era, but that does fit with how they are not suited to Elyot and Amanda.

We find ourselves in Amanda’s Paris apartment at the start of Act Two, which has been superbly designed according to the Art Deco fashion in the 1930s by Simon Higlett.

This is where we see Elyot and Amanda back to their old habits, fooling around, bickering, giving each other a code word when they feel the arguing should pause and rekindling their love for each other.

However, when Hodge rebuffs Havers’ physical advances by stating “It’s too soon after dinner” we see they are back to their old marital ways. The chemistry between Havers and Hodge is perfect, no wonder Havers hand-picked Hodge to be his leading lady for his inaugural production.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noel Coward. ©Tristram Kenton.

The following morning, Victor and Sybil suddenly turn up at the flat which Elyot and Amanda were half expecting, and the situation reverses itself from the balconies of Act One, where they start to behave as if they were the original couple who were never meant to be parted.

It was nice to see a full house on Wednesday and there was a very enthusiastic reception from the audience, which was justified as the acting was first class, the direction from Luscombe perfectly executed, and the overall atmospheric design complemented the production brilliantly.

In fact, I agree with an overheard comment from behind me: “It was jolly good wasn’t it!”

Private Lives runs until Saturday, March 26 and tickets are available via www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk or from the box office on 01483 440000.

 

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