Theatre review: Private Lives, Royal Lyceum

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Love is a fickle thing, especially through the eyes of the late, great Noël Coward. Coward’s classic comedy of manners follows the troublesome relationship of divorced couple Amanda and Elyot who, while honeymooning with their new partners in the south of France, rediscover their love, and hatred, for one and other.

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John Hopkins as Elyot and Kirsty Besterman as Amanda in Private Lives. Picture: Comp

John Hopkins as Elyot and Kirsty Besterman as Amanda in Private Lives. Picture: Comp

Director Martin Duncan wonderfully revives this blissfully hilarious milestone in comedy and presents it in a spectacularly vibrant and glamorous light. Despite his substantial CV, having previously rubbed shoulders with the Pet Shop Boys on their 1991 Performance Tour and worked with the likes of people’s choreographer Matthew Bourne, this is the first time that Duncan has directed a Coward play.

Coward’s verbal rhythm within his work is always a challenge to bring on to the stage, especially when directing characters to make them convincing. If you get it wrong, it can 
easily become irritatingly tedious. However, Duncan successfully keeps that rhythm throughout and grabs Coward’s satirical portrayal of these two aristocratic brutes with dynamic energy.

This is also helped by the two leads, Kirsty Besterman and John Hopkins, above, who portray characters who are overly childish, selfish and manipulative, but deliver them in an utterly fantastic way that makes you grow such 
fondness for them. Their chemistry together brings a real edge within the scenes. You are never quite sure if they are going to embrace in steamy passion or go on a murderous rampage. For such a short play, where emotions are constantly running from one end to the other, their comic timing and delivery is spot on.

Francis O’Connor’s stage and costume design also really brings out the glamour of the 1930s, adding wonderful charm and charisma.

This is a truly entertaining evening, filled with great wit and wonderfully choreographed sequences, the no-holds-barred domestic feud at the end of act two is a highlight in itself.

Despite being a piece that only really works within its period, Duncan’s direction really shows Coward’s piece as a timeless classic.

It’s fair to say that they don’t make them like they used to.

• Run ends March 8