16 February 2016

Private Lives at Richmond Theatre

I do not just do edgy modern theatre, sometimes I do gentle classics, things like Private Lives.

Noel Coward is something of an English legend, and rightly so,  and his name was all I needed to see this play.

The other name used to tempt people in was Tom Chambers who had appeared in a number of TV shows that I never watched, like Waterloo Road, and he also won Strictly, which I never watch either. I did, however, see him on stage in Top Hat in 2012.

I had yet to find a regular place to eat prior to going to the theatre pub and after trying The Railway a few times and The Sun Inn once I thought that I would give The Prince's Head on the Green a go. I had eaten there a few times and drunk there many more but never pre-theatre before. It worked well and even though I had to wait a little while for the food, which meant that they were actually cooking it instead of just warming it up, it arrived in good time and was delicious. From pub to theatre was only a three minute walk.

This time I went for a seat in the front row of the Dress Circle, my preferred location, Row A  Seat 5 for which I paid £36.90 (face value £34). A fair price for a good seat.

From there I could see the balconies of two posh hotel rooms. They were in Deauville in northwestern France in the decadent inter-war years.

A newly married couple appeared on the balcony on the left. She was married for the first time and him for the second. She asked questions about his first wife, Amanda, which he got somewhat rattled at. Then they went in.

Another newly married couple appeared on the balcony on the right. She was married for the second time and him for the first. He asked questions about her first husband, Elyot  which she got somewhat rattled at.

It not take much intelligence to work out that Amanda and Elyot had been married to each other. They soon discovered each other and the scene was set for the four protagonists (and three couples) to interplay with love, venom and humour.

But with no songs though, these were cut from the production. This was odd, not least because one of the songs, Some Day I'll Find You, is one of his most popular.

Without the missing songs the play had to rely on the dialogue, and a little bit of slapstick. The dialogue was typical sharp Coward whether people were being kind or unkind to each other and that was the source of a lot of humour. I did not know before that this is where the line "Very flat, Norfolk" came from. Helping that to come to life was the performance of Laura Rogers as the quixotic Amanda with a myriad of mischievous faces.

The story ebbed and flowed as did the passions and it was uncertain which of the couples would end up together, the reunited Elyot and Amanda rowed as violently as they wooed with memories of how they had loved and argued when married to each other and of why they were no longer married to each other. Their new partners added more changing emotions to the pot as they alternately forgave and condemned their spouses.

Apparently all this playing around between married couples was very racy for the 1930s censors where relationships outside of marriage were taboo. Modern times may be different and the situation no longer seems so scandalous but relationships are much as they ever were and couples arguing is always fun.

Something that stood the test of time less well was the approach to domestic violence. Now hitting women is seen as very wrong but then Elyot was allowed to say "Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs", and to do so. The line got a laugh but it was a nervous one. On the other hand, those period differences gave an interesting insight into our society of less than a century ago.

Private Lives was great entertainment thanks to great characters and great dialogue.

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