Private Lives offers glorious celebration of bad behaviour on the CFT stage

REVIEW: Private Lives by Nöel Coward, Chichester Festival Theatre, until November 20.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 10:46 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 10:58 pm
Patricia Hodge as Amanda and Nigel Havers as Elyot in Private LIves by Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge as Amanda and Nigel Havers as Elyot in Private LIves by Tristram Kenton

Nine years ago in the Minerva we had a wonderful, riotous Private Lives starring Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor, played at pace and with maximum comic mayhem.

So how does this rather more mature Private Lives on the main house stage measure up, a production featuring the self-confessed oldest actors to play the parts?

The answer is remarkably well. If at times it is rather more measured, then it is all the more poignant. But as Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers show us with consummate stagecraft, you absolutely don’t have to be young to behave appallingly.

Coward’s piece is famously the tale of Elyot and Amanda, the divorcees who can neither live with each other nor without each other.

After five years of separation and now honeymooning with their new partners, they find themselves on adjoining balconies in the same hotel in the south of France. It doesn’t take long before they are at each other’s throats again and not much longer before they are back in each other’s arms.

This is the couple that is either cooing sweet nothings or bickering with increasing violence, with absolutely nothing in between – and the result is a cracking night out at the theatre, beautifully played by two experts in the art and well supported by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and by Natalie Walter as their new partners, partners who clearly learn from the masters in a blistering final few moments.

It’s rather lovely not to be challenged, not to be forced particularly to concentrate. There’s a great deal to be said for simply sitting back and laughing. Top direction from Christopher Luscombe – and excellent sets too.