REVIEW: Private Lives
The highest of society and the depths of poor manners. Coward’s ‘Private Lives’ sparkles in the Corpus Playroom, says Jamie P Robson.
Private Lives epitomises a great deal about what makes seeing a Noël Coward play such a pleasure: the dialogue whips back and forth across the room as the two couples variously trade sweet nothings and venomous barbs, both extremes imbued with a devilishly playful, high-speed wit.
Meanwhile, the farcical plot strands thrown into the air at the play’s beginning pay off as hysterically as you would hope as the finale comes to a head.
To outline briefly that plot: Elyot and Amanda divorced five years ago, on recognition of how mutually fatal they were to each other’s happiness. Their unexpected reunion in France — where they, both newlywed, both honeymooning — is cause to spark a revival of their romance and set in motion the narrative. But of course, as with any comedy of manners, the plot is less material than the various indignant characters it throws together.
Bethan Davidson animates Amanda with haughty glamour and perfect poise, commanding the stage with an attractive amorality. Yet for all her character’s extensive faults, Davidson exudes undeniable appeal, never allowing the audience to forget why both Elyot and Victor, in their markedly different ways, become entranced by her.
Her raffish beau is portrayed with wonderful insouciance by Will Bishop, whose Elyot is by turns furious and flippant, dashing and a drunkard, but — crucially — wholly charming. And such charm — in both of the leads — is the key to the fun. The play’s comedy is founded upon an unending verbal game, a barrage of verbal assaults and parries, lunges and retreats. The joy of the performance arises from this deft dance of wits. Bishop and Davidson’s talent for engaging the audience in this game ensures the production’s success.
The mischievous central couple’s antics are accentuated beautifully by Tom Chamberlain and Eleanor Mack, playing the two wronged, freshly-minted spouses, Victor and Sybil. Victor’s endlessly amusing bluster and uptight stance on all matters moral make him the perfect foil to the more roguish Amanda and Elyot, whilst the oh-so-nice, creepily yet hilariously clingy Sybil delights with her attempts to reconcile reality with the perfect marriage she once envisaged.
The intimacy of the Playroom space also augments the performance hugely, granting the audience an up-close view of every perfectly judged side glance and raised eyebrow with which the cast extract comedy from areas beyond Coward’s gleefully witty script.
The proximity between the theatregoers and the actors furthermore lends a compelling sense of voyeurism to the production: the spectators feel like they are being granted a candid glimpse into the, well, ‘private lives’ of these characters. The resultant energy created between those on stage and off allows the talented cast to skillfully work the crowd — which, rest assured, they do with aplomb.
Forsake for one evening your attempts to pry into the private lives of your fellow undergrads or beloved celebrities; instead, enjoy peeking into those of Coward’s quartet.
More of Johannes’ photos can be viewed here