The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
Private Lives

We were like two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle.— Amanda
 Private Lives
Jasper Britton as Elyot Chase
(Photo: Sheila Burnett)
Nöel Coward's play Private Lives has been a part of my theatre memories since I saw it while I was still at school. That must have been part of the national rediscovery of Coward plays that Hampstead Theatre set in motion which they celebrate in their 50th Birthday Season in 2009. What I find amazing is, for a piece written in 1930, how little it seems dated. Of course the holidays and the lifestyle is different, but Coward's commentary on a couple who love each other but who find it difficult not to quarrel is an enduring theme.

Lucy Bailey has given a production which sparkles with Coward's wit and with four very good performances. Maybe what endures is that Coward knew how to write about, and for, women?

The scenario of two couples finding themselves on second honeymoon in adjoining rooms with a shared balcony in the same hotel is brilliantly done with Jasper Britton's sophisticated Elyot and Claire Price's beautiful but independent Amanda. We warm to three of the characters, even including pompous stuff shirt Victor (Rufus Wright) because he shows that he has enough common sense not to pair off with the awful Sybil (Lucy Briggs-Owen) but persists in what he feels for Amanda, although he insists on calling her Mandy which doesn't suit her at all. The opening scene shows the doting Sybil bending her leg at the knee as Elyot kisses her — there is a lot of quite passionate kissing in Bailey's production, but as Victor kisses Amanda, she keeps both feet firmly planted on the ground. Amanda has married Victor for security, an inevitable second best to the stormy relationship with Elyot. In the final scene Amanda keeps up an air of respectability while Elyot behaves badly with the brioche, butter and jam. Her natural good manners and upbringing are to the fore and she attempts polite conversation with the petulant Sybil but the men are ready to fist fight.

The Parisian attic apartment has been arranged with two rooms to the side for Amanda and Elyot to lurk in separately, seen by the audience but not by those in the main room who tend to be Victor and the hysterical Sybil. The second scene in the atelier is hit but several dozen candles as Elyot and Amanda rediscover their love for each other and their tendency to argue and bicker. The opening scene is on the lovely Thirties balcony with cocktails and lots of smoking. Behind the gauze curtains we get glimpses of the figures in the adjoining bedrooms. Opening night was blighted by a rogue flashing and chirruping fire alarm in the main theatre through which the cast doughtily acted on for maybe twenty minutes until a technician stopped the play. There was great relief when the alarm ceased and Mr Chase and his ex-wife were able to rewind back to where the interruption had occurred.

Jasper Britton seems to reinvent himself with every different performance — this play maybe harks back to his period role as Gielgud in De Jongh's Plague Over England (due to go into the West End very soon but without Britton) but as a more confident lover. Since then, only nine months ago, he has played the explorer Nansen in Fram and Creon in Oedipus. I remember his wonderful Petruchio for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Gregory Doran and they both must be contenders for a stage knighthood soon. Claire Price too gets a chance to show that she is more than just a beautiful woman with her spirited Amanda. As a couple Price and Britton are pure delight as they wrangle realistically, he sulks and grouches, she digs her heels in but always allowing the audience to laugh. I don't know how Coward managed to get it so right but maybe that is why he is called "The Master".

With tickets 15 to 25 and every seat with good views, this is definitely a best buy.

Private Lives
Written by Nöel Coward
Directed by Lucy Bailey

Starring: Jasper Britton, Claire Price
With: :Lucy Briggs-Owen, Rufus Wright, Jules Melvin
Design: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Original Music and Sound: Errollyn Wallen
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Tickets are 15 to 25
Booking to 28th February 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th January 2009 at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 (Tube: Swiss Cottage)
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Private Lives
  • I disagree with the review of Private Lives
  • The review made me eager to see Private Lives
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

London Theatre Tickets
Lion King Tickets
Billy Elliot Tickets
Mighty Boosh Tickets
Mamma Mia Tickets
We Will Rock You Tickets
Theatre Tickets
London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
©Copyright 2009, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from