Private Lives – review

Yet another play in town that had its premiere many years ago in Edinburgh, this time “Private Lives”, which opened here in 1930 with Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence as the warring divorced couple who meet up on adjoining balconies on the Riviera while both starting out on new honeymoons. This time round it’s John Hopkins and Kirsty Besterman who deliver the caustic wit and vitriolic humour as Elyot and Amanda, strong personalities with an even stronger positive/negative magnetic attraction.
They play their parts big, overblown really, but it works. As Director Martin Duncan says, it’s a piece of its period – the 30s – with the manners and morals of its time, and the exaggerated fulsomeness of rich, extravagant people. This play couldn’t possibly be set in the present day – there would be some kind of violence warning at the start and helpline number at the end to soften our exposure to verbal abuse and resounding slaps. But here the almost cartoon quality of the situation lends itself to the maulings and insults that are hurled about.

Francis O’Connor’s fantastic colourful sets add to this quality. The Paris apartment is stupendous – a glorious riot of glass and colours and Parisian views that you’d want to be in, sitting on the red chaise longue, sipping coffee from the Art Deco coffeepot. The other couple, their spouses Victor and Sybil, are obviously overshadowed by the main protagonists, but to their credit Ben Deery and Emily Woodward manage to pull off a bickering scene in the last act that is as good as the best of them. It’s “Private Lives” after all, not public behaviour, and Noel Coward delights in giving us his cynical glimpse into the irrational behaviour of social beings, glamorous creatures who dress well, drink cocktails, and are red in tooth and claw.

This production has style, panache and a real spirit of glee. As a certain couple sneak off at the end, we can only join in their stifled laughter at the whole ludicrous scenario that is human misbehaviour.
Lyceum Theatre until March 8th.

Book tickets on 0131 248 4848 or online here.

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