Written by Noel Coward in 1929, during a time where the moneyed classes were, in the main, educated in the classics which resulted in them entering adulthood long on romanticism and rather short on pragmatism; Private Lives is a dark comedy about the chaotic relationship between two divorcees who accidently meet up whilst of their respective second honeymoons.
Set in the hedonistic 1930’s, when debauchery was a national pastime, the show features behaviour that was common place amongst the protagonists’ class, but not spoken of in public. Prior to the days of social media, camera lenses that can spot a pimple on a gnats nose at 500m, a lot was hidden in the privacy of stately homes, plush hotels and apartments serving as love nests.
Elyot and Amanda’s mercurial relationship is played out in three scenes on two sets, the first opening on twin balconies of a hotel on the French Riviera. The play quickly gains momentum as the mental anguish of Elyot and Amanda reaction to their proximity spills over into Victor and Sibyl’s lives.
The acting is superb. With more smoking than behind the cricket nets at the local school on a Friday afternoon, more bickering than between neighbouring yacht clubs and more witty repartee than a session of Britain’s parliament, the cast is absolutely convincing in their roles. Whilst the open sexuality of the second act may have been shocking then, the domestic violence will hit a nerve with today’s audience. A superbly choreographed ‘fight scene’ is both tragic and comic, especially Elyot’s use of a silver tray to fend of missiles in the form of kitchen appliances thrown at him by Amanda.
The story is full of irony – the first being Elyot putting forth a good case for not fighting Viktor, yet he has no compunction in slapping Amanda and the second being the closing scene where the two nice people, Victor and Sibyl start fighting each other. Did they lower themselves to Viktor and Amanda’s level of depravity or were they like that anyway?
Stead is magnificent in is role – he has the suave looks, strong voice, stage presence and pure acting skill to pull off the lead role that was first played by Laurence Olivier.
Whilst Amanda is smitten by Elyot she realizes that he hasn’t a chivalrous bone in his body and struggles to come to terms with this. Clare Mortimer’s stellar in her portrayal of Amanda: chic, confident, worldly without being tacky – somewhat of a dreamer in her hunger for a higher love that she believes she can’t sustain because she does admit, sadly, that she is unreliable in affairs of the heart.
Iain Robinson and Jessica Sole are outstanding in their roles as foils for Elyot and Amanda.
The sets, designed by Greg King and lighting by Tina le Roux are up to their usual platinum standard. The soft pastel colours of the opening set and Terrence Bray’s period costumes are superb in invoking the mood of the period and place.
The performance is thought provoking and the takeaway for me, in our current turbulent times, is that no matter how social mores have changed, the human condition would be in far better shape if we simply learned to nurture temperance and respect as leading qualities to guide ALL of our human interactions.
Whilst this is not a ‘nice’ story, KickstArt and The Sneddon have produced a very true version of what the programme describes as “one of the best 40 plays of all time.” This is yet another example that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – written by the world’s best playwrights that KickstArt cannot get right!
Last night’s standing ovation was like a Mexican wave at a good rugby game – it began in the front and swept the whole of the audience into rapturous applause.
PS: Cellphone man is still on sabbatical; his locum this time sounds like the headmistress from a local private girls’ school, so mobiles were speedily hidden after her address before curtain up.
Thanks to Illa and Sophie for the invitation!

Private Lives By Noel Coward