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Private Lives review at Mercury Theatre, Colchester – ‘an explosive interpretation’

Pete Ashmore and Krissi Bohn in Private Lives at Mercury Theatre, Colchester. Pete Ashmore and Krissi Bohn in Private Lives at Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
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Despite a stream of cigarettes and the strains of Some Day I’ll Find You floating through the air, this is not a traditional staging of Private Lives. Director Esther Richardson has delivered an explosive interpretation of Coward’s popular comedy of manners.

The polite restraint of the dialogue disappears from the moment Pete Ashmore’s Elyot meets Krissi Bohn’s Amanda on the balcony at Deauville. Shock, anger and hatred spill forth in their initial exchange. A spluttering, energetic Ashmore immediately dismisses any reminder of Coward, or anyone else, in the role. Neither cool nor restrained, his performance paves the way for a relationship that makes much more sense to a contemporary audience. It’s neither healthy nor comfortable, and Elyot and Amanda prove fascinating to observe, despite coming across as deeply unlikeable people.

There’s strong support too. Robin Kingsland is a pragmatic Victor, stretched to breaking point first by Bohn’s enigmatic, sophisticated Amanda and then finally by Olivia Onyehara’s whinnying Sybil. Christine Absalom’s cough-and-spit role as Louise is a masterclass in how to steal a show. Yet, for all this, Richardson’s production still demonstrates Coward’s genius for both dramatic structure and economy of language. Sarah Perks’ set design hints at art deco without slavish authenticity and Richard Godin’s lighting has tricks up its sleeve to reflect the mood.

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Energetic, bold and potently performed revival that brings out the bitter edges of Coward's classic comedy