Private Lives

  • Theatre
  • West End
Critics' choice
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1/3
© Trisram Kenton

Anna Chancellor (Amanda Prynne) and Toby Stephens (Elyot Chase) in 'Private Lives'

2/3
© Johan Persson

Anna Chancellor (Amanda Prynne) and Toby Stephens (Elyot Chase) in 'Private Lives'

3/3
© Johan Persson

Anna Chancellor (Amanda Prynne) and Toby Stephens (Elyot Chase) in 'Private Lives'

Dreadful snob that he was, Noël Coward would probably have detested the lowest-common-denominator slapstick antics of hit ’90s sitcom ‘Bottom’. But Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson’s violent odd-couple comedy is exactly what moments of Jonathan Kent’s turbocharged revival of Coward’s 1930 classic reminded me of – and it’s all the better for it.

The ‘heroes’ of Coward’s piece are Elyot and Amanda, a divorced couple who paths cross again while honeymooning with their respective new spouses. Within a matter of minutes they’ve forgotten the numerous good reasons why they broke up in the first place and have recklessly absconded to Amanda’s Parisian flat.

They’re idiots, basically, but Kent’s full-throttle revival embraces their irresponsibility gleefully. Toby Stephens’s floppy-haired Elyot (he really does look like a younger Rik Mayall) and Anna Chancellor’s chic Amanda come across like high-strung children, utterly in thrall to their respective ids, bouncing and pinging off each other like two human pinballs as they demolish Amanda’s garret in a blur of fucking and fighting. He is impossibly feckless; she is preposterously touchy; they probably deserve each other, if only because it’s inconceivable anybody else could settle down with either of them.

There is a clear sense in Kent’s production that these two people are actually rather neurotic and damaged. Yet in the hands of Stephens and Chancellor they’re utterly delightful, a kinetic double act who lob tart one-liners at each other like balloons full of fizzing acid. The sense of glee radiating from the stage is palpable, and while there are a couple of moments where the physically violent side to their relationship is uncomfortable, Kent sort of gets away with it by grounding it all in the slapstick tradition.

As the pair’s jilted spouses, Anna-Louise Plowman and Anthony Calf feel like they don’t really get much of a look in, and funny as it is, anybody suggesting that ‘Private Lives’ is more than lightweight is looking for a heft that’s not there. But all that accepted, this is more or less unmitigated fun.

By Andrzej Lukowski

Average User Rating

3.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 1 star:3
LiveReviews|11
1 person listening
Helen

great performances from the whole cast, very funny at times but not without depth and even some sadness. Toby Stevens is a real surprise and a slightly John Cleese type character. The theatre is also lovely

Edward Franklin

In the programme for Jonathan Kent's production of 'Private Lives', Cameron Mackintosh writes that the Coward's play 'is as relevant now as the day it first opened in August 1930'. It's the sort of sentiment that is often used to justify revivals of plays that have only recently been given big productions - as 'Private Lives' was by Richard Eyre in 2010. Unfortunately, it's a sentiment that ultimately rings as hollow as Coward's fun but inconsequential play. Where the laissez-faire attitude to love, marriage and gender politics on show here may have been shocking over eighty years ago, it says very little to the world of today, and certainly offers no genuine political motivation for the work's revival. Undoubtedly what does motivate the play's regular remounting is - in addition to easy money - the opportunity for two leading actors to sink their teeth into the campy, changeable, scenery-chewing roles of Elyot and Amanda, here milked for all they're worth by Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor. The banter is witty, the fights amusing and the chemistry calculatedly steamy so as to be just as much as a matinee-full of pensioners can bear. If it's your cup of tea, you'll love it. But for my money, the play lacks the spark which so many critics - perhaps out of a sense of reverence - attribute to it, and it is a crime that people may be paying as much as £60 to see this when for a fraction of that cost they could be having their eyes opened to theatre that genuinely has something to contribute to contemporary society.

Hannah

Thoroughly entertaining - Stephens and Chancellor are fantastic. The £10 ticket offer was brilliant, we were able to pick seats bang in the middle of the stalls and had an excellent view.

Emma

Don't get tickets through Time Out. Far cheaper direct and the restaurant offers are also far above face value. Show great though!

Irina E

It was incredible performance. Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor were amazing! I laughed and was quite surprised when time was out! Terrific performance! Highly recommend!

Lyrical Groove

Terrific production of "Private Lives"; the entire cast was superb! Toby Stephens has long been a favorite actor of mine, and he is in his element here. There is great chemistry between the cast, and their comedic timing is right on point. I highly recommend this production.

Rosalind Heasman

Thoroughly entertaining. Immaculate acting. I laughed and felt quite sad for this damaged couple. Highly recommend. Amazing stage set. Top notch play! I paid £28 and felt it was a bargain!

Rosalind Heasman

Thoroughly entertaining. Immaculate acting. I laughed and felt quite sad for this damaged couple. Highly recommend. Amazing stage set. Top notch play!

No £10 Tickets - its all a CON!

Emblazoning "Pivate Lives £10 tickets" all over the Google link and the Time Out website. Yet when you go to buy them, there is nothing for any date for less than £29. False advertising - should be reported to the ASA. Dont waste your time looking. Buy from someone more reputable whose advetised prices you can rely on.