Private Lives starring Patricia Hodge & Nigel Havers

‘Coward’s classic fits the quarrelsome exasperated affections of middle age perfectly’: PRIVATE LIVES – Touring ★★★★

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Touring until April 2022

May as well tell you, I had the ultimate pensioner experience, and it was a blast. A midweek, senior-price matinee for the new touring production of Private Lives. I was curious enough to buy a ticket.

The curiosity was because Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge are more than double the age Coward wrote Elyot and Amanda to be: 70 and 75. That is getting on, even these days, for a runaway romance with old flames, abandoning two new spouses in a Deauville hotel on their honeymoon and subsequently breaking things over one another’s heads in a Paris hideaway.

But goodness, it works. Pensioners ain’t what they used to be, as the matinee audience absolutely knew, and there was much chortling at every bicker and making-up. Love is love at any age, but we all fell about with a particular glee at the gloriously recognisable way that when Amanda turns down Elyot’s lovemaking on the sofa on the grounds that they’ve had a heavy meal, he gets up miffed but is caught by a sudden leg cramp.

The only flaw is that the “five years” separation in the text ought to be rewritten , with the Coward Estate’s permission, as twenty-five. Just for realism. Otherwise, the fact is that the play fits the quarrelsome exasperated affections of middle age quite perfectly.

Of course, both players are sharp and brilliant comedians. Havers gets a roar of applause on his first balcony appearance, probably because way beyond the stage he is beloved for his stellar performance as the octogenarian Audrey’s dodgy paramour in Coronation Street.     But he always gives good cad-and-charmer, and here he is glorious:   from the first panicky twitch of his smart blazer when he spots Amanda on the next balcony,  to a peerless demonstration of how to eat a brioche with maximum  impertinence in the final scene.    And Hodge is his equal. She does look near to her age (well, to the most impossibly-chic versiont of it)  but in her striped pyjamas is sexier than many a younger women in her devil-may-care recklessness. And the pair achieve the fight, the smashing of a record over his head,  and the lounging and the reconciling. All done magnificently, lithe as well-preserved panthers. It’s a joy, sparking Oohs and aahs and giggles and barks of laughter all the way. Matinee idols both. Respect.

One thought did wistfully come to me  in the first scene. Simon Higlett’s design is fabulous – especially the Paris flat, very arty-twenties – but in the first scene there are two other  hotel balconies, looking functional,  above the principals’ ones. I sort of wanted another pair of couples – maybe their far younger selves – to appear ghostlike up there,   maybe even speak an amazed line or two, meta-style, about how strange and wonderful it is that we all grow old yet never change…

rating four

Touring: Chichester on Tuesday,  then onward till 23 April    www.noelcoward.com for details

‘Coward’s classic fits the quarrelsome exasperated affections of late middle age perfectly’: @lib_thinks has ‘the ultimate pensioner experience’ with #PrivateLives starring Nigel Havers & Patricia Hodge – & loves it. ★★★★ #theatrereviews #touring

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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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