Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

fight lives

Love is a many strangled thing. (Amanda Rachael-Louise Pickard) romantically attempting to throttle Elyot (Richard Scott) with Sybil (Jo Walker) and Victor (Shaun Dodd) arriving mid bout.

Private Lives

Hall Green Little Theatre


Elocution, Elocution, Elocution! Isn’t that what Tony Blair said? Or am I thinking of that Channel 4 property show about houses you can’t afford? Whatever . . . what is certain is that you are not going to feel short-changed when it comes to elocution in this simply spiffing production.

Noël Coward’s play was written in 1930 while he was suffering then convalescing from flu in Shanghai, and this excellent cast bring those clipped upper class tones of pre-war black and white, soft focus, high society romantic movies, along with BBC home service, dinner jacketed radio announcers, to rather splendid life – and they keep the acccents up, old things, from first to the bally last.

And that makes a difference to give the play about upper class manners, a usual Coward target, context, helping to set it firmly in its pre-war, cocktails and dressing for dinner, money no object, rather hedonistic time, making it a jolly interesting period piece rather than merely a dull dated play.

The story is simple. Amanda and Elyot have lived through a war, survived and seen a peace treaty signed, or as we would put it, they had had a rather stormy marriage and got divorced. And that could have been that.

Except the five years on and Elyot has now married Sybil and Amanda has married Victor, both marriages made in . . . well both marriages had happened without destiny appearing to have been much involved. And both couples are embarking on their honeymoon arriving at their hotel on their wedding night.

By coincidence both are honeymooning in Deauville, the casino resort in Normandy, and by even more coincidence both have booked into the Hotel Barriere Le Normandy, and by even more coincidence, or perhaps in this case, more the peevishness of fate, found themselves in adjoining rooms with adjoining balconies. Quelle chance as the natives might have it.

Amanda and Elyot's peace treaty from the previous skirmish comes under threat as hostilities recommence except the combatants realise that amid the barbs and skirmishes they never actually stopped loving each other, and, in fact are still madly in love – sorry about that Sybil and Victor, old beans.

Thus setting in motion a train of events that will keep you amused for the rest of the evening.

Richard Scott displays a splendid line in upper class charm, tinged with a veneer of lighthearted mocking, as Elyot, a part played by Coward in the première, while Rachael-Louise Pickard has all the airs and style of an independent-minded beauty from society’s upper echelons as Amanda, the part written for Gertrude Lawrence.

Incidentally, Pickard looks absolutely stunning in a shimmering silver evening gown, and indeed,  the costumes throughout look authentic and are in appropriate, and elegant thirties style so well done wardrobe team. It all helps bring a 93 year old comedy and Coward’s delightful wit to life.

As the interlopers in this unintended ménage à quatre we have Shaun Dodd as the somewhat pompous Victor willing to partake in fisticuffs with that cad Elyot to defend Amada’s honour. A certain Laurence Olivier opened in the role in 1930 while the rather needy Sybil was played by Adrianne Allen, mother of Daniel and Anna Massey,

Here it is Jo Walker as the new bride who seems to require reassurance about her comparison in the new relationship to Amanda in the old.

morning coffee

Welcome to Paris. Coffee, croissants and confrontation as Elyot (left) Victor, Sybil and Amanda break for le petit déjeuner

Her greatest delight seems to be she can play the piano, something Amanda can’t do, although one suspects that delight might well be tempered by the fact Amanda probably doesn’t even care enough to care.

Amanda hangs over her marriage like a cloud and she is not the only one either, Victor has a tendency to ask a few too many questions for his own comfort about Amanda’s relationship with Elyot and the feeling is that both new partners are somewhat intimidated by the lingering echoes of the past relationship of their predecessors.

Without giving too much away, Amanda and Elyot’s marriage did not so much end in divorce as a sort of interval, a pause to catch breath between acts, which brings us neatly to the second act, and a flat in Paris where our formerly married and now adulterous couple are carrying on their sparring with a new rule, the doctrine of Solomon Isaacs, shorted to Sollocks, which if bickering started was at once uttered by either party resulting in absolute silence for two minutes.

The silence allowing temperatures to cool – singing apparently classed a sort of musical silence as Elyot tinkles the ivories during a triple Sollocks, singing Someday I’ll Find You, one of Coward’s most popular and most recorded songs, which he wrote for the play.

Sollocks works well, that is if you don’t count the rolling about on the floor knocking seven bells out of each other as Victor and Sybil walk in. Lights out.

Which brings us to Act III, merely a short pause to reach the following morning, and we are back to happy families again, or perhaps not. We join our quartet with the arrival of the maid Louise, played de la manière la plus enchanteresse, as the old Parisiennes might put it, by Kate Edmunds.

As my knowledge of French does not extend much beyond telling you my aunt’s pen is on a table in the garden, information that does not come up in conversation that often, I have no idea what she was saying but it was all remarkably French, not surprising as she was a French teacher for twenty years, and it is all said at machine gun pace with that almost sneering, dismissive tone so perfected by many elements of the Paris service industry, complete with telling shrugs and flounces. A performance that almost steals the show.

So, we are left with our four rotating couples, the two couples married (sort of), the couple formerly married who decided to live happily ever after after all, and that leaves our couple of jilted spouses bring up the rear, defending and then attacking their relatively lost causes depending upon who is saying what about what to who.

All of which leads us to a rather witty if rather messy denouement with everyone living/battling happily/argumentatively every after. Take your pick.

Director Andrew Cooley has done a fine job especially in the balcony scene in the opening act which can be very wordy so needs action to add interest and the use of a low wall between the two rooms allows Elyot and Amanda to clamber over it back and forth regularly and the fact it brought its own laughs meant it served its purpose well.

Well acted by an excellent cast who showed understanding of Coward’s clever script and delivered its throwaway funny lines quite beautifully, with two interesting sets, (Steve Fisher and Andrew Cooley) the hotel and the Paris apartment, and Hall Green has started the New Year with a superb production to create a delightful, entertaining evening. To 04-02-23.

Roger Clarke


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