Private Lives, Wessex Actors Company on tour

fight-webNOEL Coward’s classic marital comedy Private Lives retains its appeal and enchantment 84 years on from its first appearance, only proving what a keen observer of human nature The Master was.

The setting (in Deauville and Paris) and the language may be a bit dated, but the more people change, the more they stay the same.

Amanda and Elyot have provided the exemplars of the irresistible love-hate relationship for generations, and in Lyn Richell’s tight production for Wessex Actors, it’s style and laughter all the way.

Three years ago, after a brief and fiery marriage, Elyot and Amanda Chase divorced, he setting off on a round-the-world journey and she taking solace from minor flirtations at various house parties.

We meet them again on their wedding night – Amanda to the insufferably pompous Victor and Elyot to the devotedly determined Sibyl. And as luck would have it, they are booked into adjoining rooms in an hotel in Deauville.

Once they realise the fateful coincidence, their path is clear … running away with each other again.

Their flight to Amanda’s Parisian flat quickly brings a return to the passionate bickering of their earlier relationship, but they imagine themselves to be older and wiser, and do their best to avoid the leap into misery. Before long the new spouses arrive, and as the long playing records are smashed and the coffee turns sour in the pot, it’s time for another getaway.

In the original, the first act is set on the balconies of the hotel, and the second two in the flat. That could cause problems for a company whose touring takes them to a variety of open-air venues, but, thanks to a cleverly devised set with authentic period props carefully gathered by Eve Puttick, and costumes from BSP Wardrobe Hire (recently set up by graduates of the Bournemouth University costume department) the atmosphere is quickly created and maintained.

Running for a bare 120 minutes means cutting out the French maid, but essentially this is a four hander and relies on chemistry between not only Elyot and Amanda but Sibyl and Victor too.

In this Wessex Actors production, Toby Trimby returns (from last summer’s Earnest) as a youthful but oh-so-English Victor, and Marie Bushell is a lovely Sibyl

Jay Westaway, a former Yeovil student actor and most recently seen in Arts University Bournemouth’s Oh What a Lovely War, has just the right panache and insouciance as Elyot, and the sparks between him and Beverly Beck’s feisty Amanda are totally convincing from their first moment on stage together.

And I have rarely seen the last few minutes of the third act played to better or more hilarious effect.

It’s a hugely entertaining production of a wonderful play, and well worth the journey to see.



The tour continues at Swanage’s Mowlem Theatre on 4th and 18th July, Kingston Lacy House on 5th July, Christchurch Regent Centre on 11th July, Wareham Rugby Club on 12th, Upton Park’s Walled Garden on 13th and 20th July, Sturminster Newton Exchange on 25th July, the Barrington Centre in Ferndown on 26th July and closes at the Poundbury Farm House on Sunday 27th July – so you can take your pick of open air and inside.

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