Review: Private Lives, Ambassadors Theatre

Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers bring bittersweet experience to bear in this aged-up takes on Private Lives at the Ambassadors Theatre

“Come kiss me, darling, before your body rots”

It is but a few months since we last had the chance to see Private Lives in the West End. Michael Longhurst dialled up the domestic violence with his take for the Donmar and whilst it may seem that Christopher Luscombe has erred to the more conventional with this production now opening at the Ambassadors Theatre, by ageing up his Amanda and Elyot he does offer a fresher take on Noël Coward’s acidic bon mots than most.

That’s not to say that casting Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers is something of a counter-cultural move. Both are firmly in the national treasure bracket and these are characters firmly in their wheelhouse. But there’s something quite moving, especially early on, about seeing this Amanda and and this Elyot in their 70s, still unable to resist the unique connection that they possess, even as they honeymoon with new partners as they do in the first act.

To that regard, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Natalie Walter as Victor and Sibyl are excellently cast, both suggesting clearly that Amanda and Elyot have a distinct type that they are forever drawn to. The real magic though comes in the way that they drive each other to distraction and Hodge and Havers play this like a dream, as tumultuous teasing turns toxic once again, their flirting no longer able to hide their flaws.

Simon Higlett’s handsome set designs take us gorgeously from Deauville to Paris and Kev McCurdy’s fight direction does well to counter the grimness of the violence from the Donmar. I was less keen on Luscombe’s innovation of interpolating snippets of Coward’s music though. As fitting for his legacy as this may have been, it adds little of substance to the production which otherwise benefits from its taut, rip-roaring approach.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Tristam Kenton
Private Lives is booking at the Ambassadors Theatre until 25th November

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