private Lives heading

Private Lives

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

SO what could go wrong to ruin a romantic honeymoon with wife No 2? Carefree, gay young things in a swish hotel in the high society French resort of Deauville – Paris by the sea.

Well, how about wife No 1 on her honeymoon with husband No 2 just along the adjoining terrace in the room next door.

That is the dilemma facing Elyot Chase, played in rather debonair style by Tom chambers, in this classic Noël Coward comedy of manners.

Chambers shows a fine bent for comedy with an admirable range of telling looks and facial expressions in a part that was played by Coward himself in the 1930 premiere.

Wife No 2 Sybil is delightfully played by Call the midwife star Charlotte Ritchie, providing a perfect foil to the urbane Elyot. She is a second wife who is younger, much more demure, rather innocent and desperately in love with being in love with the dashing Elyot – although that is severely tested when he throws an up market wobbly demanding to leave after seeing Amanda on the adjoining terrace.

quartet

Tea and sympathy: Victor (Richard Teverson), Amanda (Laura Rogers), Elyot (Tom Chambers) and Sibyl (Charlotte Ritchie)  

Amanda, wife No 1, is played with a splendid capriciousness by Laura Rogers. Amanda has a logic that makes sense only to her and a rather casual relationship with the truth; her version of events seems to always have her as both the victim and, usually, the victor.  

When she sees Elyot she throws the same unreasonable tantrum as he had thrown moment before, demanding the same solution and getting the same refusal from new husband Victor.

Victor Prynne, played with a rather dull, old school charm by Richard Teverson, strikes you as a man who excitement, humour and joie de vivre - we are in France remember - have passed by.

From the very start we can see dull Victor and vivacious Amanda go together like . . . well bicycles and fish.

Not that Elyot and Amanda’s marriage had been a match made in heaven; three volatile years of romantic warfare followed by five years of divorce, but the spark was still smouldering and the relationship had never really ended. Theirs’ is a classic case of not being able to live without each other and not being able to live with each other.

Coward cleverly opens by introducing the couples individually, with Sibyl gently grilling Elyot about Amanda, the

n Victor mildly interrogating Amanda about Elyot, drawing parallels and laying the groundwork for the mayhem to follow.Amid the turmoil Elyot and Amanda escape to Paris and a second act which the Lord Chamberlain, in the days of censorship in the 1930s, deemed too risqué for the sensitivities of the theatre-going public; a love scene between a divorced couple who were each married to someone else . . . smelling salts all round -  and it needed Coward’s personal pleading to obtain the licence to go ahead.

 How times have changed. Perhaps the morals and characters of our two divorcees might still be questioned but the act is more riotous fun than risqué, with bickering, enforced silences after an agreed code word to halt bickering, followed by more bickering, all ending in a fight which leaves the stage looking like a war zone as Victor and Sibyl walk in on their warring spouses.

In between the battles the pair sparkle with some wonderfully played funny moments and even give us a barefoot dance to a wind-up gramophone and a duet at the baby grand by the window. The song, Some Day I'll Find You, played first by the hotel orchestra and then sung by the pair in Paris, was written specifically by Coward for the play, incidentally.

The final act brings the reckoning with a final twist in the marital tail in what is a witty comedy with some lovely put down lines from the pen of The Master. A mention too for Victoria Rigby as the French maid Louie, left to clear up the mess. My French is not brilliant, apart from knowing where my aunt left her pen, but we got the general drift of her thoughts on the matter in surly splendour.

Private Lives is a play about both manners and morals and designer Lucy Osborne has beautifully captured the Art Deco feel of the 1930s while director Tom Attenborough has kept things moving along with a pace that is satisfyingly gentle, rather than frantic, allowing the words and wit to be savoured.

Its 86 years since Private Lives became public and although perhaps the society it chronicled has long gone, the rapier-like wit still remains in what is still a sophisticated, clever and most enjoyable comedy. To 13-02-16

Roger Clarke

08-02-16

 

Tom Chambers and Charlotte Ritchie talk about Call the Midwife, Fred Astaire, highjacking and moments from death and Private Lives. Listen here

 

Another view from the terrace

*****

WHEN Noel Coward wrote this classic comedy in just three days, he could never have imagined that it would still be delighting audiences more than 80 years later.

He originally starred in the comedy, alongside Gertrude Lawrence, and it is now rightly considered one of the great plays of all time.

Certainly the first night audience at the Alex loved the razor-sharp wit and slick dialogue as five years divorced Elyot Chase arrives in a French hotel for a honeymoon with his new love, only to find his vivacious ex, Amanda, and her new man are there for the same reason.

It takes some believing, but they are even in adjoining rooms, and sparks fly when old flames are rekindled . . . at first on the balconies and later in a plush Parisian apartment.

Tom Chambers (remember him on Strictly Come Dancing) and Laura Rogers are superb as the fiery couple who found they couldn’t live together but then realise they can’t live without each other.

They have some brilliant exchanges when the action moves from the hotel to the posh Paris apartment, a loving barefoot dance in their pyjamas and an amorous singing duet eventually turning into a raging row in which a record is smashed and ornaments scattered as the curtain comes down for the interval.

Fine performances, too, from Charlotte Ritchie (Elyot’s new wife Sybil) and Richard Teverson (Amanda’s latest husband) who try to resolve the situation only to end up screaming abuse at each other, too.

The set is stunning, beginning with two balconies which suddenly open up to reveal the extravagant apartment with a fine view of the Eiffel Tower through one of the windows.

Directed by Tom Attenborough, Private Lives runs to 13.02.16 before continuing its UK tour and eventually reaching the West End.

Paul Marston 

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