Private Lives

London Rep Players Private Lives cast. Clockwise from top left: Mark Spalding, Hephzibah Roe, Al Wadlan & Barbara Dryhurst

Private Lives: London Repertory Players - The Shelley Theatre, Boscombe.

Hats off to director Vernon Thompson and an exemplary cast for this splendid production of Private Lives. 

Over the years this classic comedy of manners has come to be regarded as  the quintessential Coward play. It is packed with melodrama, comedy, and a roller coaster of emotion.

Getting the balance right must be devilishly tricky particularly for a weekly rep company working on a limited budget and constrained by an even more limited timescale. Happily the versatile and talented LRP cast were spot on, even though at times they had to compete with the scenery for attention.

For a couple of hours it was 1930 and we were in the company of elegant, waspish and thoroughly badly behaved divorcees Elyot and Amanda. Played by real life husband and wife Mark Spalding and Barbara Dryhurst, they find themselves in an embarrassing spot of bother when they meet on the terrace of a swish hotel in Deauville. The trouble is they’re both honeymooning with new partners. Worse still the spark is still there.

Al Wadlan and Hephzibah Roe play their swiftly dumped other halves - Victor, a huffy, puffy English bore and silly lovestruck Sybil. All four actors give wonderful performances in scenes that require everything from gentle romance to physical comedy and furious rows as the emotional pendulum swings wildly between love and hate. Mention should go too to Jessica Olim as the bronchial and disapproving French maid.

 Intriguingly Coward’s wonderfully witty and knowing dialogue reminds us that this is a play that transcends the passage of time. It is set in the higher echelons of society in a very different era and when it was premiered 90 odd years ago it shocked audiences with its portrayal of the hedonism of an elite, moneyed class who had no qualms about abandoning their responsibilities.  It’s a situation that might ring some bells today.

Noel Coward’s Private Lives runs at The Shelley Theatre in Boscombe until Tuesday 20th August. It will be followed by Francis Durbridge’s crime thriller House Guest from Thursday 22nd August.

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022