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Private Lives @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Published by: Yvonne Delahaye on 8th Mar 2016 | View all blogs by Yvonne Delahaye

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16 December 1899 – 26 March 1973) was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".

Born in Teddington, south-west London, Coward attended a dance academy in London as a child, making his professional stage début at the age of eleven. As a teenager he was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays would be set. Coward achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works (including the operetta Bitter Sweet and comic revues), screenplays, poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography. Coward's stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works.

Private Lives, written in just three days, remains Coward’s greatest success and the play that marked the peak of his career. Coward himself played Elyot with his ex-wife Amanda being played by Gertrude Lawrence an association unrivalled for clamour during their lifetimes and a legend to this day. Elyot and Amanda are a gloriously selfish divorced couple who, by a quirk of fate, meet again on their honeymoons with their new spouses and reignite their old spark. The revival of their fiery romance, alternating between heated rows and passionate reconciliations, reminds them that although they cannot live with each other, nor can they live without.

A masterpiece of 1930’s high comedy full of razor sharp wit and sparkling dialogue, Private Lives remains one of the most sophisticated, entertaining plays ever written, offering an evening of acutely sharp, divinely decedent, and unashamed humour. The leading roles have attracted a wide range of actors; among those who have succeeded Coward as Elyot are Robert Stephens, Richard Burton, Alan Rickman and Matthew Macfadyen, and successors to Lawrence as Amanda have included Tallulah Bankhead, Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith, Kim Cattrall and Lindsay Duncan. Directors of new productions have included John Gielgud, Howard Davies and Richard Eyre. The play was made into a 1931 film and has been adapted several times for television and radio.

Private Lives - Production Images - Laura Rogers (Amanda Prynne) & Tom Chambers (Elyot Chase) photo by Alastair Muir PL326.jpg

Photo: Alastair Muir (provided by Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury)

This latest production is touring the country, prior to a West End run and features Tom Chambers (Top Hat, Strictly Come Dancing) as Elyot, Laura Rogers (Tipping The Velvet) as Amanda, Charlotte Ritchie (Call the Midwife) as Sybil and Richard Teverson (Downton Abbey) as Victor and is directed by Tom Attenborough. The set designer Lucy Osborne has done a fine job, creating wonderful art deco sets and costumer supervisor, Ed Parry, has created some chic period styles in particular the silk pyjamas worn by Amanda in the second act.

With all the recent talk about Eton and Oxbridge educated actors taking all the roles, I actually think that for Coward’s plays, this is what is required.  His characters really are light, whimsical and two dimensional and require a very light touch to play the humour, sophistication and glamour, particularly in Private Lives.  I felt that although the set and costumes were in the right period, the contemporary approach of the actors didn’t quite fit with the class system and style of the time.  There are particular ways of walking and moving with good deportment that was prevalent in the 1930s and was missing in this production.  It’s a very wordy play and some of the dialogue in the first act got lost through speed.  It’s also quite difficult to get the fights right between the warring couple, as it needs to be somehow played for comedy and not drama. 

How wonderful must it have been to have seen Burton and Taylor playing these roles, but it’s good to see that Coward’s work continues to be as popular as ever.


To book visit the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre Box Office, call 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee) or visit www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury (bkg fee).


Performances:

Mon 7 – Sat 12 March
Mon – Thu eves 7.30pm
Thu & Sat mat 2.30pm

Tickets:  From £15 (£16.90 when booked online or over the phone)
Box Office:  0844 871 7607 (bkg fee) Calls 7p per min plus your phone company’s access charge
Groups Hotline:  0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking: www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury (bkg fee)

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
7.3.16
@yvonnedelahaye

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