Not-So-Private Love-Hate Relationship
Quick thrusts of witty dialogue and knock-down drag-out fights are the hallmarks of Private Lives. Noel Coward’s 1930 epic battle-of-the-sexes has opened at the Avon Theatre as part of the Stratford Festival’s 2019 line-up.
Elyot and Amanda were once married to each other, but when the show opens they have been divorced for five years. They are both honeymooning at a resort in the south of France with their new spouses, when they see each other on the balcony. Their old passion is rekindled, and they decide to run off together to Amanda’s Paris flat leaving their new spouses, Victor and Sybil, behind.
In the second act, we find Elyot and Amanda lounging in her apartment in Paris, so much in love. But, of course, a fight breaks out, a brawl so bad that their snooty French maid won’t tidy up after it. Then Victor and Sybil arrive, hunting for Elyot and Amanda. They, too, get into a loud argument, as Elyot and Amanda make up. And so the love-hate relationship continues.
The play is filled with clever repartee and sassy banter, typical of Noel Coward’s upper class English characters – or sometimes they are just pseudo upper crust. In any case, it is the script that creates the laughter in this show.
We know that domestic violence isn’t funny, so when Elyot says that women need to be struck like a gong, it’s very jarring. Some of the fighting is cringe-worthy, too. Thankfully, the vases aren’t thrown at people, just strewn about. But bearing in mind that this was written and first performed in the early 1930s, we accept this treatment of women as a sad fact. So, it’s preferable that it be left in the play, rather than whitewash history.
Lucy Peacock commands the stage as Amanda. When she is powdering her nose on the balcony and first notices Elyot in her compact’s mirror, her reaction is hilarious. Later, in a discussion about what they’ve done in the five years since their divorce, Elyot justifies his affairs, and adds that it doesn’t suit women to be promiscuous. Peacock quickly and firmly delivers the line “It doesn’t suit men for women to be promiscuous,” to great applause.
Geraint Wyn Davies, as Elyot, moves easily back and forth in the love-hate relationship. Unfortunately, some of the choices made to create humour are a stretching it a little. I am still puzzled as to why he puts on Sybil’s flowered hat and holds her purse for no reason.
Mike Shara is perfect as Victor – he has genuinely fallen for Amanda, and then sees his fears realized when she goes back to Elyot. Sophia Walker, as Sybil, creates comedy with her concerns about Elyot’s love for her, but goes over the top with her crying. Sarah Dodd is hilarious as the maid, Louise, in her all-too-brief appearances.
If this plot sounds familiar, perhaps you saw it in an episode of the old TV sit-com Frasier, where Frasier goes on vacation, only to find his ex-wife Lillith next door. Whether it’s Elyot and Amanda or Frasier and Lillith, the battle of the sexes never ends.
Private Lives continues in repertory until October 26 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Geraint Wyn Davies as Elyot Chase, Mike Shara as Victor Prynne, Sophia Walker as Sibyl Chase and Lucy Peacock as Amanda Prynne in Private Lives. Photo by David Hou.
Private Lives – 2019
By Noel Coward
Directed by Carley Perloff
Performed by Sophia Walker, Geraint Wyn Davies, Mike Shara, Lucy Peacock, Sarah Dodd.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre, Stratford
June 4 to October 26, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson