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Private Lives review at Malvern Festival Theatre – ‘faithful and engaging’

Amanda Prynne in London Classic Theatre's Private Lives. Photo: Sheila Burnett Helen Keeley in London Classic Theatre's Private Lives. Photo: Sheila Burnett

It is one of the best-known put-downs in the whole of Noel Coward. “Very flat Norfolk,” a peevish Amanda tells her dangerously attractive ex-husband Elyot in Private Lives, after learning that he met his new wife at a country house party there.

It is certainly not a description that applies to London Classic Theatre`s faithful and engaging touring production. The on-stage sexual chemistry between the two leads lights up the show.

Coward is reported to have written Private Lives in just three days in 1930, describing it with not total accuracy as the lightest of light comedies. Director Michael Cabot avoids making the razor-sharp wit feel too mannered, but is less sure with some of the rather more sombre things Coward has to say about two people who can`t live together and can`t live apart.

Elyot, given an unusually boyish edge by Jack Hardwick, meets up again with the free-spirited Amanda, a suitably glamorous but also tetchy Helen Keeley, on the first night of their respective honeymoons with new partners.

The electricity is there, but some of his cruelty both to Amanda and his new wife Sibyl is rather under-played. What playwright would get away today, for example, with the line “certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs”?

Kieran Buckeridge and Olivia Beardsley are livelier and more sympathetic than is often the case as the second-time-around spouses, and designer Frankie Bradshaw manages to give an opulent French touch to sets designed for touring.


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London Classic Theatre emphasises the sophisticated side of Coward`s battle-of-the-sexes comedy over the darker elements