Private Lives at Ambassadors Theatre
Private Lives – one of Noël Coward’s finest and most absurd plays – is a love story riddled with chaos, alcohol and unmatched wit, which audiences will find as fresh now as they did at its premiere in 1930. Director Christopher Luscombe’s production succeeds on all fronts, and much of its brilliance stems from the unmatched pairing of Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers.
The plot centres around Elyot (Havers) and Amanda (Hodge), who are on their respective honeymoons with their new partners five years after they have divorced each other, where they discover that they are in adjacent hotel rooms. After the initial shock, they realise that they are inexplicably attracted to each other and end up dumping their respective partners only to hide away in Amanda’s flat in Paris – resulting in a twisted dance of passion and chaos. Luscombe transports the audience to 1930s Paris with exquisite sets and costumes that ensnare the senses.
It’s a lively production to mark the 50th anniversary of Coward’s death in 1973, and demonstrates how timeless some plays can be. Despite its humour, the topic is undeniably dark. It’s a challenging experience watching Elyot and Amanda tear each other to shreds over virtually nothing besides the absurdity of being obsessively in love and yet not being able to get along at all – not to mention the rotten way they treat their new spouses, Victor (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Sybil (Natalie Walter), who mirror younger versions of Elyot and Amanda; but none of that takes away from the hilarity of the stupendous dialogue.
It’s the chemistry between Havers and Hodgevthat really sets the stage on fire. Every line spoken, each movement of the hand is so perfectly placed to emphasise the ridiculously sad relationship that their characters are living through; they exemplify love at its most hilarious and horrifying. This contradiction makes them difficult to pull off, but Havers and Hodge have such excellent comedic timing and rapport on stage that it matches the pair perfectly.
Even today, the play resonates hauntingly: the tale of a tumultuous affair that will never grow old. Private Lives is an easy recommendation for all, whether recovering after a tragic heartbreak or toasting to a new relationship.
Private Lives is at Ambassadors Theatre from 31st August until 25th November 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: