Private Lives is a comedy written by Sir Noel Coward (‘the master’) in 1930 and here it is as the inaugural production of the Nigel Havers Theatre Company. It is about a divorced couple Amanda and Elyot who, while honeymooning with their new spouses, discover that they are staying in adjacent rooms at the same hotel. They soon realise that they still have feelings for each other, in spite of their previously stormy relationship.
Predictably it starts Nigel Havers as Elyot (after all there’s no point having a theatre company if you can’t star in its shows) and also the fabulous Patricia Hodge, known to older readers for Rumpole of the Bailey and as Miranda’s mother to younger ones. And they make the perfect pairing, with really great chemistry.
Havers is brilliant at playing, well, Nigel Havers – think suave, handsome, quick witted, amusing, debonair and very likeable – and he is perfect here as one would expect. Hodge as Amanda is terrific, a wonderfully commanding presence on stage with lovely comic timing – she flitters between adoration and love and then hatred and annoyance at the spin of a coin. They bicker beautifully, much to the amusement of this sell-out crowd at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.
Natalie Walters plays Sibyl, Elyot’s new wife, who is slightly childish, needy and easily upset while Dugald Bruce-Lockhart well captures the rather boring, pompous and stentorian new husband of Amanda. They don’t get much time on stage until the final scene when they happily get an enjoyable turn. Aicha Kossoko, who plays Amanda’s (fluent) French housekeeper, steals her brief scenes with authentic Gallic disapproval.
The script still sparkles, some 90 years after it was first written. Some lines have fallen foul of the censor but many politically incorrect ones remain, much to the audience’s amusement. The staging is good, especially Amanda’s Parisian flat in the Avenue Montaigne, and the costumes are lovely.
This was my first live theatre after two turbulent years and its was great to be back with such a delightful production. There were three masters at play here – Coward, Havers and Hodge. And they were all marvellous.
Private Lives is at Yvonne Arnaud Guildford until Saturday 26th March.