Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Private Lives

Noel Coward
Royal Exchange, Manchester
23 February 2011 to 09 April 2011

THERE is nothing remotely confidential to the love lives of the central characters in this gloriously uninhibited revival of Noel Coward’s ‘romantic’ comedy.

Imogen Stubbs and Simon Robson throw themselves, with gusto, into the roles of Amanda and Elyot, the divorcees destined to repeat their marital mistakes over and over again.

Love as a monster is nothing new, but seldom has the beast shown up so elegantly attired and well-spoken.

The Royal Exchange’s technical departments excel themselves with an attention to detail that extends from a giant hand-painted carpet, through several thousand cobblestones, to the graceful styling of Ms Stubbs’ eye-catching wardrobe.

The Riviera hotel terrace on which the star-crossed couple meet again uses a curling low hedge as a love seat – more privet than private! And the Parisien apartment, where the story reaches its warring climax, is a suitably dark boudoir turned battleground.

Just occasionally some of the spoken humour is overwhelmed by the sheer physical force of the delivery, and the constraints imposed by playing it in the round, when characters must sometimes have their backs to the audience.

That is more than made up for though by the intimacy we enjoy with their company.

Stubbs and Robson positively inhabit the roles of the couple consumed by passion, and achieve an erotic climax across a piano that has seldom been bettered since cinema’s Fabulous Baker Boys!

She has a gift for physical comedy, and outrageous dancing, while he reprises some of the Henry Higgins he served up in last year’s Pygmalion, coupled with hints of darker depths to Elyot’s sexuality.

Their “two minutes of silence” draw some of the loudest laughs from a night of sublime comedy.

As the couple’s respective husband and wife the characters of Victor and Sybil tend to book-end the play but Clive Hayward and Joanna Page prove much more than props to the fun. He is suitably stuffed-shirt and she reveals even more talent than her beguilingly star role in TV’s Gavin and Stacey.

Reviewer: David Upton


Comment by Alan Hulme

I'm nowhere near as enthusiastic about this as David.

Imogen Stubbs, yes, the others not outstanding I thought and there were the usual technical problems in translating a pros arch play into the round, particularly in the first scene on the terrace.

In my book, Oldham Coliseum's production a month earlier - silly by the way for two producing theatres just 10 miles from each other to be opting for the same play just a few weeks apart - was far more involving and better cast overall. 

Comment by Paul Genty

Another vote for the locals: the Exchange and the Oldham Coliseum managed to clash over Blithe Spirit a couple of years ago too - and yes, the Coliseum version was better.

Comment by Robert Beale

I preferred the Oldham version - more youthful high jinks and sheer fun than the oh-so-Cowardy Royal Exchange performance, polished though that was.