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