Presented by Ambassador Theatre Group
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Tom Attenborough
Private Lives can be described as nothing less than a classic. The play opened the new Phoenix Theatre in London in 1930, starring Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Adrianne Allen and Laurence Olivier. It has been revived on numerous occasions since, including a 1931 film adaptation.
A formerly married couple discover that they are staying in adjacent rooms at the same hotel during respective honeymoons with their new spouses. They soon realise they are still in love and elope – but love and hate often come hand in hand, and their romp turns predictably hostile in typical witty Noel Coward fashion.
Many a celebrated actor and actress have taken on the central roles; Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Coward himself to name a few. In this touring production it is the turn of Tom Chambers and Laura Rodgers to step into the shoes of Elyot and Amanda.
Chambers has a deal of swagger about him, but lacks a certain air of flamboyance to which Coward has given the character, his portrayal is somewhat two-dimensional, he throws away a number of gags and his vocals are a little too thin to carry at times – the pair have chemistry, but simply put he is no real match for the formidable Laura Rogers. Rodgers gives a vivacious, brash performance as she captures the right balance of realism and caricature. Charlotte Ritchie and Richard Teverson give strong supporting performances as Elyot and Amanda’s prudish new partners.
There are some moments where the comedy shines through, particularly as Elyot and Amanda romp around the apartment, and the ensuing awkwardness when their respective spouses turn up. But the production runs away at a breakneck speed and some further attention to detail from director Tom Attenborough would have given more flavour to the production, particularly in poignant moments.
A few snippets of Coward musical numbers make a welcomed appearance, but more certainly would not have gone amiss.
Lucy Osborne’s set is a little too flimsy for liking, cheapening the production slightly – you almost feel like the set is bound to collapse amid all the door slamming. The balcony scene needs a little more depth, as it protrudes from black curtains either side and to the back, and the design of the apartment seems a little too organised and practical to have really been Amanda’s.
This is a neat little production of a Coward classic, and it is nice to see the piece being performed true to the style and period without any great compulsion to tinker or reinvent – but it needs an ounce more conviction to be truly satisfying. The writing is superb, Coward at his finest, and this production should have more to offer.
At Birmingham New Alexandra theatre until 13th February 2016, and continuing its tour until March 19th 2016.