Review | Private Lives at Chichester Festival Theatre: 'Delivers with style and panache'

Love: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 8:31 pm
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives. Picture by Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives. Picture by Tristram Kenton

Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy ruminates on this idea through the torrid tale of Amanda and Elyot, a divorced couple who are catapulted back into each other’s lives when they become neighbours on their own respective second honeymoons.

Both jaded by their failed marriage, the pair appear to go through the motions with their new spouses – but when they lock eyes over their balconies, the chemistry that brought them together in the first place sets off a chain reaction that obliterates any semblance of newlywed bliss.

Olivier Award winner Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers, whose eponymous theatre company is behind the production, star as the star-crossed lovers.

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Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives. Picture by Tristram Kenton

Hodge brings a languid stateliness to Amanda that acts as a foil to Havers’ cheeky charisma, and together they rally the pair’s fiery exchanges back and forth like pro tennis players, landing each joke with ease.

In fact, at some points the passion boiled over. Be warned: there’s lots of kissing and cuddling.

The play itself has a tendency to be somewhat repetitive, with the same arguments playing out time and again, but it nips along at such pace that there isn’t time to be bored – a credit to the actors.

The supporting players are also deserving of praise. Hats off to Natalie Walter, whose grating voice perfectly encapsulates the whining, simpering Sibyl, Elyot’s new spouse.

Some parts have aged better than others, with some chauvinistic asides from Elyot eliciting panto-like boos from the audience.

But for a period glimpse at relationships behind closed doors, this delivers with style and panache.

Until November 20.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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