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Private Lives

by on 28 September 2019

Honeymoon Engagements

Private Lives

by Noel Coward

The Questors at The Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 5th October

Review by Viola Selby

Private Lives is undoubtedly one of Noel Coward’s greatest successes, with its timeless humour it has entertained audiences since 1930, and Francesca McInally’s adaptation truly gives homage to this, as the audience are given a glimpse into the private lives of a divorced couple who run into each other whilst on their respective honeymoons. This meeting appears to relight an old flame and the couple decide to run away together to Paris. What follows is staged in such an intimate and awkward way that it makes anyone watching not only deeply invested but also able to engage with how the characters must be feeling at the time. Such engagement is also greatly helped by the stunning set designs, by Jake Smart, and period perfect costume design, by Carla Evans, which truly bring the 30s alive in Ealing!

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The play’s success relies heavily upon the quality of its cast, ensuring that Coward’s repartee is done in a perfectly timed manner and that a simple story is turned into a night of high class hilarity. This need is strongly met by the tremendous talent of the caddish Robert Seatter as Elyot Chase, whose dance moves in silk pyjamas would rival those of Fred Astaire. Seatter manages to convey a wide range of ever changing emotions, from veracious fury when dealing with his ex-wife Amanda Prynne to relaxed indifference with his new wife, Sybil. He does this all whilst delivering most of the best yet completely misogynistic lines, like when he informs Amanda that it does not suit women to be promiscuous, which evoked a collective sharp intake of breath from the audience. Amanda, passionately portrayed by Kate Langston, then retorts this by stating “It doesn’t suit men for women to be promiscuous”, encouraging a huge applause. As Amanda, Langston completely becomes the passionate and often selfish character, always ensuring that every jibe and sarcastic comment is captured in the cold-hearted and brutal nature it was intended to be delivered.

Together, Seatter and Langston have a fantastic chemistry together that truly helps to create their characters’ overbearingly lustful and self-absorbed relationship. However, this relationship would be nothing without the added support and confusion that is brought along by the new yet estranged spouses, Sybil Chase and Victor Prynne. These characters, both polar opposites of each other, highlight how Amanda and Elyot have consciously chosen to marry individuals very different from their exes. Sybil for one, is very young and naively only ever wants the constant approval of her new hubby. Her ear splittingly shrill voice is cleverly kept constant throughout her performance by the comedic Nell Rose who gets the audience to feel both sympathy for the poor Sybil and annoyance at her incessant wailing, which would put any toddler to shame. Whilst Victor is the very definition of a British ‘stiff upper lip’, well to do gentleman, played perfectly pompously by Francis Lloyd whose ability to portray such a stiff man so naturally, especially in such emotional moments, added to the play’s overall humour.

Finally the most intimate and oh so awkward moments were made even more awkward and strangely intimate by the addition of the French maid Louise, whose accent and annoyance was made extremely realistic by Yvonne Monyer. For example, making everyone sit on the small sofa and drink the coffee she had been asked to make led to one of the most awkward scenes one could imagine having with their new partner, their ex-partner who they had just run off with and their ex partner’s new partner. Altogether, a thoroughly good night to be had and one not to let get away.

Viola Selby
September 2019

Photography by Jane Arnold-Forster

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