Private Lives ★★★ Richmond Theatre | November 9 - 13, 2021


Noël Coward's Private Lives was written in 1930 and needs to be brittle and gossamer thin if the characters are to retain our sympathy. The story, such as it is, tells of a couple who have divorced and remarried, only to rekindle a rather fractious romance. The original stars, Coward and Gertrude Lawrence were both 30 and for a later revival he insisted on young players for the roles. If the cast is too knowing, the play can be in danger of being rather nasty – especially if the fight at the climax of Act II becomes anything more than a playful rough-and-tumble serving as a prelude to the couple jumping into bed. Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge are certainly popular with their audience and both received rounds of applause on their first entrances. Havers is very suave and handsome if a little slow; he even gets laughs by playing up the aches and pains of canoodling in the face of incipient old age. Hodge spits out the vitriol very well but her mature voice lacks some lightness of touch that makes the lines work. Some of the most misogynic, problematic references have been cut. The loss of the line “Certain women should be struck regularly – like gongs” might reflect the times in which it was written, but rings very differently today. The audience loved the well-honed performances in this revival of a play that whilst it still amuses shows some awkard signs of age.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by John Swannell.

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