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Private Lives

OSC’s Nicholas Green, directs Coward’s classic 1930’s comedy of manners.
Wadham College Gardens, Sun July 25th - Wed August 18th 2010

July 28, 2010
‘You cad!’, ‘you slatten!’, ‘fishwife!’, ‘cotton-wool Englishman!’, ‘rampaging gasbag!’, what fitting, witty words Coward uses to describe his characters. Oh how dreamy it would be to live in a world where such terms of address were common-place, where people were mocked for ‘shilly-shallying’, and where an intensely awkward breakfast meeting of mangled loves could be passed exchanging pleasantries about traveling and the delights of a Parisian hotel. I wholeheartedly agree with the talented director Nick Green: Coward’s ‘beautifully constructed’ gags make our modern chat seem dull and utilitarian.

With a script this good, it might be easy, as an actor, either to rest frustratingly on one’s laurels and do it an injustice, or to rise to the challenge and break the masterful phrases like one might a skittish colt. It is all about timing, and these five actors timed their delivery to perfection.

The scene is merrily set by a troupe of musicians who nonchalantly churn out their usual number, ‘La Mer’, and to this sporadic refrain the action is played out. Newlyweds Elyot and Sybil are mirrored in Amanda and Victor and the two couples show how not only how different people affect and view us, but also how the term ‘love’ can be so manipulated.

Rodney Matthew is great as Elyot, particularly in that dashing red striped suit. Coward himself played Elyot in the 1930 opening West End run, and it is clear that the playwright saw aspects of himself in this memorable character, whose dialogue captures the essence of Coward’s carpe diem attitude towards life. ‘Laugh at everything’ Elyot urges, and use the delights of irony to smother life’s awkward and difficult moments.

For Victor, played so movingly by Christopher Jordan, this flippant attitude to life is incomprehensible, but for Amanda, who matches Elyot’s irony, melodrama and pessimism, this philosophy is perfectly fitting. Amanda and Elyot’s characters make them insufferable to anyone but each other and the final realization of their compatibility over breakfast was I think the most enjoyable and profound part of the play. Although Elyot’s guitar skills and Amanda’s hysterical dancing in the apartment scene could well be a rival for the top spot.

I must add that the dual-interval was bitter-sweet: we sat agitatedly in our seats, eager for the gags to continue, whilst wickedly happy to be able to get our hands on not just a hot chocolate but a hot chocolate AND a glass of wine. A rare treat. With Private Lives, the OSC has produced a triumph, the perfect play for a summer evening. In fact, I had so much fun that I barely noticed the rain.
Loved it. And, yes, Noel Coward does work outside in the open (the evening performance might just be more atmospheric but matinees are cheaper...)- and it is lovely to have a choice from the almost inevitable Shakespeare everywhere else. Great performances, given with gusto, and the plot entirely stands up for a modern audience. Go. See. Enjoy.
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