Of all Noel Coward’s plays, Private Lives is the one that epitomises his distinctive theatrical language. The wit is as dry as the martinis and, even for the time in which it was written, the characters of feuding couple Elyot and Amanda are almost other-worldly. Sophisticated, spoiled and independently wealthy, they’re untethered by reality – but Coward offers a peek into their less-than-perfect private lives.
Tam Williams’ production is one of style, thanks in no small part to Michael Holt’s inventive set design that gracefully shifts from Deauville balcony to Parisian pied-a-terre.
There’s innovation too, with Celia Cruwys-Finnigan serenading the audience with pop songs in a heavy Gallic accent accompanied by an accordion. But beyond that, the production lacks personality. It’s good-looking but makes safe choices all the way through, in way that doesn’t really serve Coward’s writing.
It’s not that Darrell Brockis and Eva-Jane Willis don’t have the necessary chemistry as Elyot and Amanda – they most certainly do – but their relationship is tamely presented. Despite all the shouting and violence, there’s neither much glamour nor danger in their pairing. Of the other cast members, Lydea Perkins is good value as Elyot’s wailing new bride Sybil but it’s Tom Berkeley as Victor who stands out. There’s a genuine sense of heartache when he loses his fight to win Amanda back.