Private Lives

Posted on: 10 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Noel Coward's revived 1929 production of Private Lives.


Wit and sophistication are two elements sadly missing from many modern plays but they were the trademark of that theatrical comedy maestro Noel Coward.

Nowhere are they better in evidence than in his 1929 play Private Lives, which was revived in 1962, bringing about a renaissance in Coward’s career, and now returns to the same north London venue, the Hampstead Theatre, in a sublime new production directed by Lucy Bailey.

Amanda and Elyot can’t live together and they can’t live apart. They love each other passionately and despise each other with a vengeance. After being divorced for several years, they discover they are honeymooning in the same hotel as their new spouses and occupy adjacent rooms. As you might expect they fall in love all over again and learn to hate each other again.

This is no period cocktail-stick comedy but a work with a dark underside, yet displaying a rare level of tenderness and insight. It is easy to understand why this is one of Coward’s most successful and popular comedies as it defies age and in this sparkling new production seems as freshly minted as ever. In particular Coward’s biting wit and razor sharp dialogue, exemplified by “honeymooning is a terribly demanding amusement!” and “eight years we’ve loved each other, three of those married and five divorced!”

Indeed this is a play which operates on many levels and contains great comedy as well as great pain – the sense of thwarted desire and quiet despair permeates the work – but the situation in which the characters find themselves always remains intensely human and real.

Director Lucy Bailey draws splendid performances from her cast of four, most notably Jasper Britton as the disreputable, grumpy Elyot, a man who reverts to/do lover on meeting his ex-wife, and Claire Price who managed to be both sexually enticing and annoying in turn as Amanda, with fine support from Lucy Briggs-Owen and Rufus Wright as their two mismatched partners. The sets, lighting and music strongly convey the mood and atmosphere of the piece.

This then is a production which hits all the right notes and marks an excellent start to the theatre’s 50th birthday season.

By Laurence Green

Show Details

Where: Hampstead Theatre

When: Plays until 28th February 2009

Box Office: 020 7722 9301

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