When they’re done well, Noel Coward's fast-moving and quick-witted plays are always a delight to witness, and this production of his famous comedy of manners did not disappoint. The storyline is a simple one: a divorced couple, who haven’t seen each other for years, each embark on honeymoon with their new partners… only to discover that they’re in adjacent hotel rooms. Predictably, their “ludicrous, overbearing” passion is re-kindled on sight.
The cast gave slick, convincing performances throughout. The older more experienced Amanda (played by Laura Rogers) was sexy, provocative, and as fiery as her red hair suggested. In stark contrast, Sibyl is the young, insecure, rather sappy newlywed; actor Charlotte Ritchie has her character nailed, making her annoying enough that you want to leap out of your seat and mess up her well-groomed hair. Even the brief appearance of the ambivalent French maid Louise (Victoria Rigby) brought a laugh or two.
The two leading men, meanwhile, just got better and better as the three acts unfolded. As Elyot, the hot-tempered and melodramatic elder spouse, Tom Chambers plays his part with gusto. His continuously exaggerated, sometimes ludicrous gestures were a comic highlight – and it's impossible not to enjoy the sarcastic comments Coward puts in his mouth. For me though, the stand-out performance came from Richard Teverson, playing the dull but very decent Victor. His very Britishness and subtle pomposity stole the show at times; just the slightest change in expression brought his wronged character to life in a heartbeat.
The delivery of a very complicated and wordy script is flawless, flowing smoothly between the players in every scene. The moments of comedy are relished by all, with the final scene – which unfolds over coffee – a particular pleasure to witness. The creativity embodied in the set is wonderful too; the opening scene looks like the characters are on an ocean liner, while the Paris apartment full of art deco touches, superbly reflecting the era in which the play was written.
If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that the fight scenes born out of passionate outbursts weren’t quite so convincing. The characters’ reactions often appeared a little slow and un-spontaneous, and a couple of obviously theatrical slaps broke the drama in the moment for me.
This apart, the cast did a great job of proving that “love is no good unless it's wise and kind and undramatic” – and I suspect that Coward would have been pleased to witness this version of his enduring comedy. A sharp, entertaining and pleasing production, it certainly left me thinking about what people may get up to behind closed doors in their Private Lives.