Review: Private Lives

By John Nathan, January 29, 2009

Hampstead Theatre, London NW3

Noel Coward’s classic comedy is a suitable choice to kick off the Hampstead’s 50th anniversary season. It was, after all, this venue that revived the play in the ’60s, since when it has been a reliable star-vehicle for actors with the required effervescence to do justice to Coward’s wit.

The brilliance of Coward’s conceit — which sees jaded divorcees Elyot (Jasper Britton) and Amanda (Claire Price) celebrate their second honeymoon with brand new spouses in the same hotel — is as sparkling as it ever was.

But for those who saw Howard Davies’s landmark production starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan eight years ago, this version, directed by Lucy Bailey, will come across as a relatively dour affair.

The dark tone of Bailey’s production is set by the deliberately jarring strains of a solo piano, which cleverly chimes with the equally discordant relationship between two people who, despite their mutual love, cannot help but fight.

It is an idea that makes perfect sense, but one which sets the evening at too low a pitch.

The mood is not lightened much by Katrina Lindsay’s design of the Paris garret in which the second and third acts are set. It looks more like a Hendon conversion than a Parisian love nest.

Britton’s playful insensitivity is the class act here, but it says a lot that even he is upstaged by Rufus Wright’s Victor, who plays the ironically named loser with stiff-upper-lipped tenderness. It really should not be his fate you care about, but it is.

The evening still goes down like a glass of champagne, but the bubbly has gone flat.

(Tel: 020 7722 9301)

    Last updated: 11:58am, January 29 2009