Private Lives – Theatre Review

DIRECTOR Tam Williams has come up with a winning Private Lives, now playing at The Mill at Sonning in Royal Berkshire – a glorious venue on the Thames. The production is full of zip, fun, magnificent dresses and some funky accordion playing (and singing).

Although nearly 90 years old, the Noel Coward play has lost none of its wit, relevance or humour. Far from it. And the five-strong cast, led by a magnificent Eva Jane Willis (as the flirty, mischievous Amanda Prynne), are marvellous. Laughs galore.

It all starts with a young, somewhat neurotic and freshly married Sibyl Chase (a super Lydea Perkins) on a hotel balcony overlooking Deauville Beach with husband Elyot (Darrell Brockis). It’s quite obvious trust is an issue as Sibyl whines on relentlessly about Elyot’s former lover and wife Amanda. A honeymoon night heading for disaster.

By pure coincidence, the room next door is occupied by honeymooners Amanda and Victor (Tom Berkeley) who seemingly had a humour bypass at birth. Talk about chalk and cheese. Like Sibyl, Victor can’t stop droning on about Elyot. Jealousy, not salt, is in the air. Two marriages heading for disaster from day one.

Of course, it’s not long before Amanda and Elyot (through song) become aware of each other’s presence. The hostility between them initially is red-hot – like the passion they once shared in marriage – and Elyot can’t wait to get away from her. But of course the passion is still there and it’s not long before they are fleeing to Amanda’s home in Paris. Sybil and Victor are left stranded. ‘To absent friends,’ says Victor as they console each other on their adjoining balconies with cocktails.

Yet nothing is simple when it comes to Amanda and Elyot. In Paris, they love, they fight (‘certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs,’ remarks Elyot quite outrageously), they have mini-truces (marked by the word ‘solacs’) and then they start all over again. When Victor and Sybil rock up, yet more pandemonium rules. It’s not only Amanda and Elyot that can fight like cats and dogs.

All rather riotous and all rather fun, helped by a wonderful cameo from Celia Cruwys-Finnigan as Amanda’s bad tempered maid in Paris. Cruwys-Finnigan also plays accordion before the play starts and throughout, delighting the audience with her wonderful voice and choice of related music (for example, Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Lose Your Lover and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love). A marvellous touch.

The costumes (Natalie Titchener) are breath-taking, especially Amanda’s green gown and Sybil’s sea blue dress. The set (Michael Holt) is also cleverly designed.

Williams has done Coward proud. A masterly production.

Tickets cost from £58.50 and include a tasty two course dinner (buffet style). If you’re lucky, there might be a pianist playing in the bar downstairs afterwards – anything from a bit of Celine Dion to Abba. Private Lives runs until August 3.

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