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Review: Noël Coward’s Private Lives at Cambridge Arts Theatre



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Getting the chance to see Nigel Havers, one of my very favourite actors (please BBC, repeat Don’t Wait Up), and Patricia Hodge - whom I have enjoyed watching in the wonderful new version of All Creatures Great and Small - perform together on stage was just too good to miss.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Having also recently attended the fascinating Noël Coward exhibition at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery, it felt like the perfect time to take in one of the celebrated writer’s best known comedies.

In the play, Elyot (Havers) and Amanda (Hodge), who were previously married, find themselves, in Act One, on honeymoon with their new partners in the same French hotel and with adjoining balconies. The set perfectly recreates the irresistible glamour and opulent splendour of the 1930s, as do the gorgeous costumes.

Havers, suaveness and charm personified, as ever, perfectly encapsulates the slightly older, delightfully rogue-ish man, who can also it transpires be very obstinate, on honeymoon with his younger, wide-eyed and apparently innocent bride, while the effortlessly elegant Hodge is fun to watch as the classy yet quite cynical Amanda, who playfully interacts with her younger and seemingly rather strait-laced husband.

Natalie Walter and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart skillfully portray the respective new spouses, Sibyl and Victor, as the first act builds to an emotional climax.

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Natalie Walter in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Natalie Walter in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton

As the curtain was raised at the start of Act Two, there was murmuring among the audience who I think were quite taken aback - as was I - by the stunning recreation and attention to detail of Amanda's Parisian Art Deco flat.

The interplay between Havers and Hodge throughout the scene was enjoyable and quite the rollercoaster ride as the pair moved from one extreme to the other, through well-scripted dialogue, dancing, singing, and even explosive acts of violence.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton

There were moments towards the end of the act where I felt the proceedings started to drag a little, but then something dramatic would happen to keep the energy level up.

Sibyl and Victor - and the character of the maid Louise (Aïcha Kossoko) - were included in Act Three as events were brought to a satisfying conclusion - the threatened bout of fisticuffs to defend Amanda’s honour between ‘cad’ Elyot and ‘boring’ Victor being a particular highlight.

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers in Private Lives by Noël Coward at the Theatre Royal Bath. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Indeed, there were definitely some real laugh-out-loud moments throughout the play, although perhaps not quite as many as I had been expecting. That said, this was still a great night at the theatre and it was a privilege to witness two of the country’s finest and most respected actors ably supported by the rest of the talented cast.

Private Lives runs until Saturday (November 27). For more information, go to cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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