Noel Coward’s Private Lives is a comedy of manners that has experienced endured success over the years. Anyone who is anyone has taken on the roles of the dynamic couple Amanda and Elyot, so the expectations were already exceptionally high for this production. Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens do not let down. They have been brilliantly cast as the divorced couple, who, by the smallest chance possible end up honeymooning next door to each other with their new partners.
Neither Amanda nor Elyot are able to convince themselves, or each other, that they are truly experiencing their ‘second chance at love’ and soon they are sucked back in to a constant cycle of love and madness which is both destructive and delightful. Private Lives is not just about Amanda and Elyot however, it is also about the two supporting, rejected spouses – Victor and Sibyl. The dynamics of the play truly come alive with Victor and Sybil being caricatures of the stereotypical man and woman whilst Amanda and Elyot are far more flexible.
What makes the play such a thrill to watch is the wordless acting from Chancellor and Stephens; the movements in unison, the body language that speaks louder than words; the mocking, and the venom they deliver behind certain lines allows the audience to feel as if they have witnessed the entire history of the couple; every up and down, rather than the snapshot of their tumultuous reunion which plays out on stage.
The first act is wonderful with Elyot and Amanda beginning their new lives, with their new spouses, and them both finding it difficult to suppress their irritation at their partners. But the second act is when the energy of the play begins to really kick in and the dialogue between the characters is hurled around much like the objects that Amanda later throws at Elyot from across the room.
Laughter erupting from the audience is not an uncommon experience when going to see this play, particularly in this production’s final moments when the couples sit down to enjoy some coffee and brioche. There is sarcasm, there is music, there is dancing and there is plenty of enjoyment to be had at Private Lives.
Private Lives transferred to the West End after a successful run at the Chichester Festival and plays at the Gielgud Theatre until September 21st.