Private Lives: The Nigel Havers Theatre Company
Review: Private Lives, in Oxford until 5 March and then on tour until 23 April 2022. Book here.
[Disclosure: The Oxford Playhouse provided me with free tickets for the purposes of this review as well as free drinks in the press room during interval.]
Private Lives is the classic comedy written by Noël Coward in 1930. It was the first play to be performed at the Phoenix Theatre in London, starring Coward himself along with his lifelong friend, Gertrude Lawrence. It was an instant hit and has been performed regularly ever since.
Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in the debut of Private Lives.
This version, brought to us by the Nigel Havers Theatre Company, is a sugary, effervescent delight. The two gorgeous locations in the play – a chic hotel balcony at a French seaside resort and an art deco apartment in Paris – provide the perfect backdrop for Havers and Hodge to play the couple that both love and hate each other with a passion.
In this production, everything is exquisitely done – the sets are magnificent, the costumes are elegant and sparkling and the acting, from the greatest actors of their generation, is pretty much perfect.
The play is packed with so many hilarious one liners and witticisms that the audience, at least in the show I went to, was laughing continually throughout the entire show. The whole atmosphere was so unabashedly jolly, that it started to feel like grown-up panto.
If you need a sparkling sunshine filled holiday from the grim realities of the news and from our grey English spring, then take a trip to Private Lives, bask in the sun-drenched French coast and have a good laugh at the absurdity of life, love and everything.
This is British theatre at its very best.
Throughout the play there is violence between an intimate couple, both described and shown. While these scenes are part of the story, demonstrating that the couple cannot, in the long term, live together – they are also presented in a humorous way.
Given that one in three women and one in six men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes – I felt it was important to mention this aspect of the show. Everybody brings different life experiences to the theatre. Some people will experience the violence as slapstick comedy. Others will find it anything but funny - and for those people, I recommend skipping this particular show.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos taken by Tristram Kenton, and provided to me by the Oxford Playhouse.