"This superb revival of Noel Coward's play supplies two hours of comic bliss"
-The Daily Telegraph-

"A snappy, glamorous and unapologetically lightweight play about a couple who can’t live with or without each other"
-The Evening Standard-

"Jonathan Kent's Chichester Festival revival of Noel Coward's classic marriage comedy comes to the West End's Gielgud Theatre"
-What's On Stage-

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Coward's writing is consistently sharp and deliberate

Critic Rating

4 July 2013, Gielgud Theatre
Dominic Dominic
The West End seems to be awash with revivals of classic summer comedies, and Noel Coward's 1930 play 'Private Lives' is no exception. Having just been in the West End less than 3 years ago, the play was hardly ripe for revival, but as the Chichester Festival Theatre's seem intent on transferring anything and everything to the West End it acts as a perfect accompaniment to a summer's evening. Whilst both an obvious and safe choice, this is a play audiences always respond well to, and Coward's aphorisms are regularly laughed at before the punchline with a knowing sense of familiarity that makes the evening feel comfortably enjoyable.

I must begin by saying that my evening was made more amusing by the character sat in front of me, who had a Judy Finnigan-esque accident before the play started, exposing herself to most of the stalls. She howled throughout the entire first act, adding to the physical destruction of Amanda's Paris apartment by violently opening a bag of macaroons that showered the front stalls.

The play opens on adjoining balconies in a hotel in Normandy, where former husband-and-wife Amanda and Elyot are coincidentally honeymooning with their new partners. As they both begin to argue in post-marital bliss, they realise they are both still in love with one another and take the opportunity to run off together, leaving their confused spouses behind. It is this act which is always the most memorable, with the visual division of the two balconies and the mirroring scenes played firmly for laughs. Anthony Ward's elegant design revolves seamlessly to show the Amanda's 'small' flat in Paris, where we catch up on the action a week later and we watch the come down of their second honeymoon period.

Whilst Coward's writing is consistently sharp and deliberate, much of the success comes from the strength of the central performances, and the dynamic between the two couples. Toby Stephens plays Elyot with the perfect level of arrogance and egotism, and is matched by Anna Chancellor's overbearing and haughty Amanda. Her facial expressions alone are perfect, conveying the ridiculousness of the situation, with almost a wink to the audience who buy into it from the word go. Anthony Calf is a rather unforgiving Victor Prynne who you never really root for, and he looks uncomfortable next to Amanda from the get go. Anna-Louise Plowman smiles like a young Felicity Kendall, but appears too fragile and grating to really champion. As she begins her heated argument with Victor in the final act, you can't help wanting to follow suit and creep out of the hotel room with Amanda and Victor and leave them to it.

The pace never falters throughout all three acts, clocking in at just under two hours, but you are left exhausted by the excellent word play and careful handling of the text by Director Jonathan Church. New life is certainly breathed into this classic, but you can't help feeling the same level of recognition Amanda and Elyot share on their balcony which for some will invoke happy memories, and others an endless string of comparisons.

Charles Spencer
In lesser productions Coward’s epigrammatic one-liners can seem tired and mannered, and if there is no coup-de-foudre between the actors playing Elyot and Amanda the play can seem a self-regarding bore.
Here however the chemistry proves spectacularly combustible. I didn’t think I would ever see a sexier Private Lives than the one starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan more than a dozen years ago but the sense of unbuttoned intimacy and desire between Anna Chancellor’s Amanda and Toby Stephens’s Elyot proves even stronger.

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Henry Hitchings
In this deliciously fresh revival Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens bring a lovely chemistry to Noël Coward’s comedy of manners – which feels as if it can’t possibly date from 1930. Their characters Elyot and Amanda, divorced for five years, are painfully reunited while honeymooning with their new spouses...This is a play that often gets revisited, and it’s not hard to fathom why. Coward’s writing is slick, ingenious and musical. Some might claim it’s trivial, but this is a fine study of volatile intimacy. Jonathan Kent’s assured production is remarkably brisk, lasting under two hours – it could comfortably be played without an interval. First seen at Chichester last year, it’s another success for that West Sussex powerhouse.

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Michael Coveney
Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor play it to perfection at the Gielgud and do so, most impressively, in the vivid and immediate present. They are creatures of appalling impulse, driven to extravagant displays of irritation and affection on some primal, rhythmic surge of fear and loathing. It's a jazz age junket of manic self-indulgence...And of course it's so brilliantly funny you hardly have time to catch your breath as Jonathan Kent's production batters at your twin reactions of delight and disapproval.

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