Donmar Warehouse, London – until 27 May 2023
The first thing I said to my friend during the interval of Private Lives at the Donmar Warehouse was, ‘I don’t remember this being a play about domestic violence’. We’d just witnessed Elyot (Stephen Mangan) and Amanda (Rachael Stirling) having a physical fight which included Elyot grabbing Amanda by the throat and throwing her onto a sofa. This wasn’t slapstick violence which you might expect in a comedy of this type but vicious, and it wasn’t funny.
A woman was overheard asking an usher why there wasn’t a content warning. There is one, but it’s tucked away on the website to avoid spoilers. And it’s not a play I’d think to look for content warning.
You expect verbal cuts and bruises as bitterly divorced couple Elyot and Amanda find themselves in neighbouring rooms while on their respective honeymoons. But the physical fighting feels like an odd choice.
The play is, in essence, about a couple who can’t live without each other but equally can’t live with each other – despite agreeing on a ‘time-out’ word when they are bickering. And the bickering does rumble along with a good smattering of laughs, as you would expect from a Noel Coward play. Stirling is particularly good as the sharp and witty Amanda. But all this serves to make the violence all the more shocking – and out of place. It throws a shadow on what follows and changes how you view Elyot.
Mangan is a seasoned comedy actor and an expert at timing, but his Elyot can lack charm, making him seem cold, barbed and aggressive. When he and Amanda aren’t fighting, there is warmth and affection, but sandwiched between slaps, grabbing, pinning and pushing, it is hard to reconcile. Indeed both Amanda and Sibyl easily gloss over his bullying and aggressive behaviour.
So I’m a bit conflicted about Private Lives. Yes, I chuckled and laughed on occasions, but the domestic violence turned this into a different sort of play, and it didn’t sit well.
I’m giving is ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Private Lives, Donmar Warehouse
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Starring: Rachael Stirling, Stephen Mangan, Laura Carmichael, Sargon Yelda.
Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes, including an interval.
Booking until 27 May for information and to book tickets, visit the Donmar Warehouse website.
Sea Creatures, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs ⭐️⭐️ and a half, booking until 29 April.
A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 June, it then transfers to the Savoy Theatre for 5 weeks.
BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half, booking until 29 April
Further Than The Furthest Thing, Young Vic ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 25 April
A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half; transferring to the West End on 20 March.
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