‘Exuberantly funny, elegant & sharp’: PRIVATE LIVES – Ipswich ★★★★

In Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

Avenue Theatre, Ipswich – until 7 April 2019

Exuberantly funny, elegant as a Deauville hotel balcony and sharp as the crack of a 78rpm record over a lover’s head, Joanna Carrick’s witty miniaturised production does Noel Coward’s sparkiest comedy full justice. I say miniature – it’s full length – only because of the venue: the tiny but vigorous home of Red Rose Chain.

An outfit which on the face of it should be far too ‘woke’ for Coward, being a non-profit but professional theatre company, deep in community projects with young people and care homes (the group working with dementia sufferers put on their five-minute workshop piece after the show on gala night, which is definitely a first for Private Lives).

But the intimacy, and the cheeky sense of inclusivity which always marks RRC shows, actually serve dear Noel very well indeed. I suspect he would rather like the moments when Fiz Waller’s nonchalantly irresponsible Amanda – trying to make light conversation with her fellow-runaway or the other furious couple – decides to direct her remarks on the scenery intimately to the front row. Or when Ryan Penny’s furiously virtuous Victor makes them hold his coat while he executes a fist-jabbing haka at the languid Elyot, who stole his wife from their honeymoon balcony. Setting it in the round, with the balconies separated by a diagonal parterre of flowers, brings us dangerously into the action.

The young cast makes the well-worn famous roles their own. Waller’s Amanda, elegant though she is in pale satin, negligée or daring beach-suit, is not the slinky cooing seductress some have made her. Rather she is very Gertrude Lawrence: a comedienne who one should remember crossed the Channel on a landing-craft with ENSA after D-Day to perform in shell-wrecked cinemas.

Her insouciant toughness rises to just the right heights in the combative second-act, with a memorable close-up fight as the couple’s banter turns to fury. Harriet Leitch as the aggrieved bride gives Sybil the precise, prim, pleated-skirt virtue covering tyrannical wifely viciousness which the world’s Cowards so dread.

Ricky Oakley is young, thus a more schoolboyish Elyot in appearance than usual,  but actually Elyot’s  best jokes (“Its a very old sofa”  and “strange noises”)  suit that interpretation well.     So it all holds together beautifully with this young cast;   the grace-notes and scene-shifts are typical of Carrick’s directorial wit,  not least  the deployment of Victor’s golf club in the first half , and Amanda’s final dive for a brioche at the end.

And from the volunteer cadre and the youth theatre, Rei Mordue’s cameo as Louise the maid doesn’t miss a trick:  proper French contempt in every move she makes.  I’d go again.  Some days, you can have a prosecco tea before the matinee.

box office  redrosechain.com   01473 603388.   to 7 APril

Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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