by Noël Coward.
Haymarket Theatre Wote Street RG21 7NW 22-26 March 2011.
7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 01256 844244.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 March at Mercury Theatre Colchester.
Elegant revival takes nothing for granted.
Two Private Lives in one week – it’s almost like going public. And this version, snaking its way south, began life earlier this year at Oldham Coliseum, which must overlap the catchment for Manchester Royal Exchange’s current staging.
Yet Robin Herford’s production, now ending its tour in Basingstoke, and which impressed reviewsgate.com reviewer Stoon on its opening, occupies a distinct terrain.
If Manchester looked at the psychology of the central warring pair, Elyot and Amanda, Herford’s revival, without undermining the play’s comedy, takes it as the work of a dramatist whose first full-length play was a study of marital torment called The Rat Trap, and who had caused a stir in 1924 with The Vortex, a drama concluding with a mother-son confrontation as tempestuous as Ibsen might have managed.
Though Sybil, the second spouse Elyot abandons on their honeymoon when he re-meets former wife Amanda, claims she’s not manipulative, Maeve Larkin provides inflections of body language that suggest otherwise. Yet she’s utterly conventional in her instinctive responses, while Jackie Morrison shows a spirit that makes Amanda a match for James Simmons’ Elyot.
It’s Simmons, though, who provides the defining sense of ease and energy in the relationship, playing a trick on Amanda or reacting with sharpness and the conviction of reason. And Christopher Naylor plays abandoned husband Victor not as the usual square-jawed young Englishman of the time already aspiring to middle-age, but as a lithe, inexperienced fellow who might learn a thing or two from Elyot’s livelier wit.
Michael Holt offers stylish designs of peach-coloured walls varied by inflections of stronger-colouring. Tess Alshibaya brings a multi-lingual mind to the French maid, though her ease of speech comes with a fast-pace requiring almost equal fluency to understand; still her continued muttering offstage makes its own comic point about life clearing-up for the high-temperaments of this world.
It may be fanciful, but Herford’s acting experience has contained a long stint with another mixer of mirth and marital despondency, Alan Ayckbourn, including the multi-role, sixteen-variant Intimate Exchanges. A similar founding of humour in character and a sense of reality distinguishes this revival
Elyot: James Simmons.
Sibyl: Maeve Larkin.
Amanda: Jackie Morrison.
Victor: Christopher Naylor.
Louise: Tess Alshibaya.
Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Thomas Weir.
Sound: Lorna Munden.
Musical Director: Howard Gray.
Fights: Renny Krupinski.