Monday, 5 August 2013

Private Lives

Private Lives
Gielgud Theatre
It is good to see Noel Coward's Private Lives - ''an intimate comedy'' - back on the West End, with Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor in the roles of Elyot and Amanda respectively.

Private Lives has been in the news again recently, thanks to BBC4's impressive film Burton and Taylor, which played out against the backdrop of the 1983 stage version of the play, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the lead roles.

The basic premise of the play sees the divorced couple Elyot and Amanda coincidentally starting their honeymoons with their new partners in the same place at the same time. After a couple of near misses, the inevitable happens as they meet each other on the famous balcony.
The famous balcony; best enjoyed via a central view
Equally inevitably, Elyot and Amanda retain strong feelings for each other, which cannot me merely brushed aside and have far-reaching consequences for all concerned.

Although primarily a comedy, Private Lives should portray a more serious side too. Although the farcical elements on show at the Gielgud Theatre quite rightly earned plenty of outbursts of spontaneous laughter, I didn't find myself as moved as I thought I would have been by the plight of Elyot and Amanda. Reading the original script of the play conveys more of the contrast of emotions and listening to the audio version featuring the original Elyot and Amanda - Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, naturally - is still the best way of all to experience the power of the on/off relationship.

It's undoubtedly a very enjoyable play but I still believe it could be even better with a little more balance between light and dark.

Incidentally, Toby Stephens was stepping into the famous shoes of his parents - Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens - who were in the same play at the same theatre exactly 40 years ago.

Private Lives is booking until 21 September 2013. Further details are available here.

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