Private Lives is perhaps one of Noel Coward’s most successful and frequently performed work, sitting somewhere between farce and social commentary it tells the story of a divorced couple who find themselves honeymooning with their new spouses in hotels rooms next door to each other.
First premiered over 85 years ago, aside from the individual performances, the repeated threats of domestic violence were at times a little unsettling and were met with gasps by some audience members and understandable so. In an era where arguably offence is taken all too easily, Elyot’s (Tom Chambers) casual remarks that he would like to “cut off (his wife’s) head with a meat axe” are shocking to hear when one is not accustomed to the dialogue.
However, generational differences aside and to the cast. Tom Chambers’ Elyot is appropriately aloof and altogether horrendous in the opening balcony scene, he delivers the constant tirade of insults with a smug casualness that appall his new wife, Sibyl (Charlotte Ritchie). However, in his turbulent relationship with Amanda (Laura Rogers) he’s fails to be exuberant or memorable enough to distinguish himself from Amanda’s new conquest, Victor (Richard Teverson) and allow the audience to understand their magnetic attraction to each other.
As a foursome, the cast are strong and the production is well paced for the most part. It perhaps struggles the most in the later moments of act one set in Amanda’s Paris apartment where she and Elyot have escaped together. There are extended scenes of dialogue, interspersed with a little dance and song however for this scene to be engaging Chambers and Rogers need a more convincing chemistry. This said, Rogers’ Amanda is wonderfully obnoxious and carries herself about the stage with the wonderful arrogance Elyot cannot decide whether he loves of abhors.
Ritchie and Teverson are very capable in their supporting roles as the jilted spouses. Having only known Ritchie from Channel 4’s very 21st century Fresh Meat in her role as Oregon, it took a little adjusting to accept her as the timid and naive Sibyl of the 1920s, however she was successful after what appeared a nervy start. This experience of the cast certainly helped her in act two where her final explosive row with Victor was convincingly commanding.
This Coward classic is always enjoyable in its many guises, as a whole this cast are strong and it makes for a confident production, which just lacks the spark required to really have the audience cackling when Elyot and Amanda launch into one of their numerous cat fights.
First published on LondonTheatre1.com