Noël Coward's Private Lives (2013) Poster

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London West End theatre productions, Noël Coward's PRIVATE LIVES as directed by Jonathan Kent
ingsley11 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
CinemaLive and Digital Theatre are currently presenting the second title in their series of London West End theatre productions, Noël Coward's PRIVATE LIVES as directed by Jonathan Kent.

As seen at the Chichester Festival Theatre 2012 at the Minerva Theatre, this a new production of Noel Coward's 1930 romantic comedy "Private Lives", that has transferred to the London West End at the Gielgud Theatre. This explosive production, proving yet again that Noël Coward's delightful words, still have the power to provoke and thrill today's audiences.

Elyot Chase (Toby Stephens) and Amanda Prynne (Anna Chancellor) are glamorous, rich and reckless divorcées. Five years later, whilst on their second honeymoons with their brand new spouses, their passionate love for one another is unexpectedly rekindled, when they take adjoining suites at a French hotel. They both fling themselves headlong once more, into a new and exciting whirlwind of lust/love, without any thought for their partners present or their past issues.

Kent's production works so well with the cast and is very highly recommended. This is not at all the expected look and feel that you would expect for a writer famous for his lighter-than-air banter and smirking comedy. Surprisingly, this lush, nasty but immaculately plotted version is something very grand.

Director Jonathan Kent and designer Anthony Ward have built a particularly opulent hotel double balcony, and a sumptuously fitted apartment in Paris full of beautiful objects and furniture.

With just two settings, the three act play is beautifully photographed using multiple cameras, and carefully edited to hide the stage-bound origins.

"No man or woman can be safely trusted with a life of leisure" PRIVATE LIVES, for that "low dishonest decade", announces and celebrates the twin virtues of sophistication and spinelessness, those two moral diseases which overtook most of the continent removing both ethics and conscience, in the years before World War Two.

Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne are both very low, very dishonest and their carelessness and selfishness are in fact very symptomatic of that era.

In the opening scene, within moments of unpacking at the honeymoon hotel, he is already threatening to sever his new and younger second wife's head with a meat axe, simply because she was nagging him. Elyot is a very intolerant man of unlimited leisure and unlimited misery, who does in the end infect everyone with his kind of poisonous verbal venom, thus providing large doses of audience laughter.

They are all constantly concerned with worrying only about their own happiness. On the first day of their honeymoons, the new spouses are both wondering, just how long the wedded bliss of lust/love will last for them, and that vanity leads to disaster in their private lives. The high energy applied to smashing up of objects against walls and each other, heightens the emotional impact of the bickering and nagging. One 78 record made from solid bakelite, is broken on an actor's head. One wonders just how much pain the actor feels from that impact.

Perfect comic timing for all of the excellent cast, whilst in full battle mode, the two abandoned spouses suddenly burst unannounced through the front door, to hear and see the bewildering scene of utter destruction.

This is an era where English Society believed that corporal punishment and capital punishment actually worked. As it was not a crime and having no legal consequences, spouse-beating was considered a necessary duty to be regularly performed during marriage. After all this England, is the nation that hanged men, but were unwilling to hang women and instead women were burned alive at the stake!

Amanda Prynne is full of adulterous mischief and gratuitous self-satisfaction, and she delivers much of the script's callous elegance. You are unable to take your eyes off her and her silky gowns and pyjamas. Yes indeed, the worst of these four upper-class cretins is Elyot, forever exuding impish charm, he is the only hero of this story.

Well-breed and witty, he is an emotionally abusive, nasty, charming, brutally sarcastic, still jealous, caustic, chain-smoking, brandy-swilling, wife-beating, always impeccably dressed man of leisure, all wrapped-up as our perfect expectation of blunt-edged cynicism, as spoken by a male 1930′s character that was originally played on the stage by Noel Coward. Casting Sue Kelvin as Linda the French Maid, is pure genius.

Stunning performances by all, and one can now clearly understand exactly why Anna Chancellor was nominated for the 2014 Olivier Awards for her performance. One marveled at the way her exquisitely expressive face emoted every subtle emotional turn, and always rendered with all the skill of a consummate female actor.

Dialogue is delivered in standard posh upper-crust English accents, and the French Maid is very effective by speaking her lines, all in the French Language, very deliberately and clearly.

Noel Coward's well-made comedies, are always a perennial favorite with adult audiences. All of his limitless wit and lively charm remain fresh and vital. Adultery remains a perennial issue and theatrically remains an excellent source for generating laughs. Thankfully neither wife nor husband-beating are no longer accepted in today's more enlightened world!

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