by Noël Coward.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 9 April 2011.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm, Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 2 April 4pm.
BSL Signed 8 April.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 March.

Comedy rises from plausible personalities.
Though their marriage led to divorce, Elyot and Amanda find, as they meet at the start of second-marriage honeymoons, that they unavoidably love each other. By the time they’ve realised this, almost in horror, author Noël Coward has shown how tedious their new partners already seem.

There are echoes of earlier English comedies in Private Lives. The surface irritations Sibyl and Victor offer are entirely different from the all-in personality clash-and-match as Amanda and Elyot play out, in her Parisian flat, a tussle similar to the central acts of Taming of the Shrew.

And just as Congreve’s arguing lovers Millamant and Mirabell are joined in a Cavalier quote from Sir John Suckling, so here, the offstage yacht in act one is recognised as the Duke of Westminster’s only by the star pair.

But why do they want to be together, and why, By Sollocks, can’t they keep from arguing? Michael Buffong’s in-the-round revival suggests the reason lies in joint narcissism, his of the romantic idealist, hers the unstoppably childish.

Though Simon Robson doesn’t ‘do’ Coward, her has a similar sleek, bushed suavity and musicality, playing Cowards’ ‘Talent to Amuse’ (also replacing the usual ‘Somewhere I’ll Find You’ as the couple’s act one signature tune), then the grand 18th variation from Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody on the piano as Amanda – evidently no high-culture devotee – stands between his arms (a move from the play’s 1930 premiere with Coward and Gertrude Lawrence).

She forever undercuts his grander moments, and revs round the room twice in a novelty dance. Imogen Stubbs has a cheeky, smiling innocence that morphs into childlike fury when provoked.

Both have the necessary sense of the effortless, and are well-matched, while Joanna Page and Clive Hayward catch the conventionality of the new spouses, clearly selected on the rebound for emotional rest and engaging in their own, final row with voluble recriminations lacking the panache of the grand fury in progress when they arrived.

Buffong overdoes the maid Louise’s cold, having her sneeze exaggeratedly over the brioche.That apart, it’s a happy night for all who have only to sit and watch.

Sibyl Chase: Joanna Page.
Elyot Chase: Simon Robson.
Victor Prynne: Clive Hayward.
Amanda Prynne: Imogen Stubbs.
Louise: Rose Johnson.

Director: Michael Buffong.
Designer: Ellen Cairns.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Steve Brown.
Choreographer: Coral Messam.
Fights: Kate Waters.

2011-03-20 22:39:51

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