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PRIVATE LIVES SHEFFIELD LYCEUM FEBRUARY 22, 2022

How many Coronation Street Actors would be brave enough to take on the role of an elegant, suave, posh charmer from the 1930s in a Noel Coward play? Well, this one is so compelling you’d think he was born for it! It’s therefore quite surprising that Nigel Havers was busy courting Audrey Roberts on the cobblestones of Corrie long before he landed this, his first role as a coward. He’s now more than twice the age of his character Elyot (originally played by Coward himself), just as Olivier Award-winning co-star Patricia Hodge is more than twice Amanda’s age, but that doesn’t matter. The audience erupts in delighted oohs, aahs and woo-hoos as soon as they appear.

The pair are long-time friends and have acted together on TV, but this is the first time they’ve enjoyed performing on stage together. Another first is that this is the inaugural production of the Nigel Havers Theater Company, a company whose aim is to tour world-class ‘theatrical jewels’ across the country. Nigel and Patricia believe there is a greater connection to regional audiences and they are generally more appreciative too.

Since the play’s extramarital affairs were considered too daring at the time, its love scenes were almost censored in Coward’s time. This audience didn’t even blush. But they gasped in genuine horror at the simulated slap and jaw slap and were amazed at all the smoking. For the most part, though, they giggled, charmed by the fast-paced, witty banter and copious, absurdist silliness of situations, characters, and event sequences, which, while far from believable, still reflect how absurd and absurd people are so often, even (particularly) in real life. There is a lot of truth in the ridiculous, especially when it comes to romance and relationships.

The charm and entertainment of the piece lies in the fun and humor that emanates from every moment, so a good performance is crucial, enhanced of course with a bit of wistful, breezy Coward music – One day I’ll find you, a room with a view. Havers and Hodge are Elyot and Amanda, who divorced years ago after a tumultuous, up-and-down marriage. Both are now honeymooning with a new partner, Elyot with Sibyl (Natalie Walter) and Amanda with Victor (Dugald Bruce Lockhart). Outside on their elegant, sunny, French balconies, it soon becomes chillingly clear that the two honeymooners have ended up in adjacent suites. Enter chaos.

The first, short act has a delightful, beautifully crafted symmetry. While Simon Higlett’s ornate balustrades, French doors, pretty pink-striped awnings, and double balconies with white tables and chairs create a sunny, symmetrical beachfront hotel brimming with continental elegance, the conversations and comedy work deftly in mirrored parallelism. also as each pair of honeymooners appear in turn on their balconies, like figures on a Swiss watch, and then in increasingly complicated, absurd pairings and interactions. Acts two and three, set in a luxurious Parisian apartment, are more expansive as the love/hate relationships travel back and forth and round and round in repetitive circles, beginning with passion, mutual admiration and sublime affection before progressing Jealousy leads to yelling, bickering, verbal fireworks, then escalates to throwing vases and punches before returning to warm affection. So it’s like life – repetitive, often boring and frustrating, ridiculous, ridiculous, stormy,
grim and terrible and exciting and wonderful.

The four actors work heavily together to charm audiences all too keen to be charmed, while Aicha Kossoko as the talkative, grumbling French maid Louise brings a welcome touch of je ne to the show’s light entertainment mix of gentle hilarity and farce sais quoi adds silliness and emotional explosion.

Eileen Caiger Gray

The show tours alongside Oxford, Poole, Guildford, Norwich, Brighton and Nottingham.



PRIVATE LIVES SHEFFIELD LYCEUM FEBRUARY 22, 2022

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