Privates Lives – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Written by Noël Coward

Directed by Amy Liptrott

Rating: 2 out of 5.

In a contemporary world of over-sharers, the idea of private life is ludicrous for some. To maintain an image of social structure though, is evidently an aspect which never parts – and if anything has worsened, especially when the reality is that deep down, normality is a myth, and in private, whatever that may be, no one is ‘normal‘.

In a realm of catalyst emotional battles, where opposites collide with frequency, literary juggernaut Noël Coward’s Private Lives remains as surreal a comedy of manners as ever. Constructed around the eternal pull of two lovers, recently divorced no less, that upon marrying new partners, Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne find themselves neighbours on their honeymoon. Disaster, but perhaps, fated. The two spark up what once was, determined to change for one another – expectantly though, some things cannot change, and carnage ensues.  

Coward’s even-footing for both his male and female leads was once a triumph in equality of depiction, but the surrounding parcel of the production feels off. While Amanda and Elyot possess an immense, though differing, urge to attack, the venom never reaches the toxic level it ought. The production cannot fend off the staleness, Amy Liptrott’s direction falling short in pushing the surreal aspect far enough. A monumentally tricky task to undertake, one in which Liptrott succeeds in snaring fundamental elements of Coward’s script, yielding to others.

Even the once allegorical aspects of gay relationships, toying with expectant masculinities, detachments and the dreaded submissive vs dominant traits remain (somewhat) present – but in a contemporary performance seem futile unless excessively, or uniquely, leant. Floating, the comedy bobs at a surface level, played for the occasional obvious, rather than subversive laugh – where the physicality of the show, where required, feels somewhat lifeless and featherweight.

So, let’s cut the mustard – Coward’s piece is one of antiquate fashions surrounding women (and indeed men), and distressingly domestic violence, where a rough and cuff attitude to keeping one’s wife in order was little more than comic japery. Amanda gives as good as she gets, however, and Amelia Donkor’s stern presence onstage, a woman of her own volition, sharing insurmountable chemistry with Tom Richardson aids in conveying the allure of returning to Elyot time and time again. Regardless of how ill-fated the prospects one another has.

Boorish, caddish, and an utter rake to boot, Richardson makes a quintessential Elyot Chase – a man for whom no issue is too lofty to mock, and no quip too fast-paced to make. There’s revelry in their performance, throwing oneself into the fray so to speak, complete capture of the performative aspects required, and an evident sense of enjoyment in portraying such a chaotic character. Where Richardson is let down, however, is with the depth of the surrounding production, a similar issue for the entire cast. They feel like they’re in a production, in a show, and Liptrott struggles to evoke a sense of theatrical magic with the archaic piece, lamenting what makes this show worth re-staging.

And for the small(ish) parts they play, both Nalân Burgess and Marc Small bring necessary energy, whether a more internal blustering rage which builds within Small, or Burgess’ more agonised howls and cries of distress. It’s a shame that the reigns never seem to be entirely off, and though all four principal characters try their damnedest are never able to give over to the more surreal and physical nature of the humour, unable to truly make use of Ken Harrison’s superb set dressing, though make a good show of its capabilities and flow in the second act.

Faithful in recapturing the elements of adversity between leads, Private Lives certainly carries a strength in both Richardson and Donkor, who take authentic glee in rounding on one another but never drawing blood. But it’s failure to capture the instability of the characters – and if anything is too composed, too artificial. It feels that in an attempt to appease the more troublesome aspects of the show, the production itself becomes the submissive party, demonstrating more conflict within its own construction, than that of our lovers.

‘Too Composed’

Privates Lives runs at The Pitlochry Festival Theatre until September 30th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

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