A divorced couple find themselves on neighbouring hotel balconies as they honeymoon with their new partners, in this sparkling re-opening production at Norwich’s Sewell Barn Theatre.
Noël Coward’s script takes a classic farce setup but instead of frenzied scenarios uses it as a springboard for a daring and witty treatise on the impetuous, irresponsible, and incorrigible nature of love.
Cassie Tillett’s direction still provides plenty of physical humour though – even the scene change to Act 3 is fun to watch as the stage manager takes apparent delight in ‘trashing’ Phillip Williamson’s set. You half expect him to swig a brandy part-way through.
Nick Meir and Harriet Waterhouse as the reunited divorcees have the lion’s share of the lines and fit comfortably into their characters, and like (at times, boxing) gloves with each other. They are perfectly believable as besotted lovers, as well as star-crossed sparring partners.
With Coward’s sympathy clearly elsewhere, Verity Thomson and Lee Johnson have less material to play with but conjure the boorish gent and prissy ingenue with some skill. Johnson’s facial expressions – particularly when facing a slightly surreal battle with a sugar set – are priceless.
Cristina Fernandes has only a few moments on stage, but overflows with the surly boldness of an unimpressed French maid from her first sweary exclamation.
Coward’s characters exhort us to “savour the delight of the moment… before your body rots, and worms pop in and out of your eye sockets”. This play is definitely superficial – it circles around without real resolution, the characters not quite believable – but it’s a marvellous party to watch. You should try getting on the guest list.
- Private Lives continues at Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich, nightly until Saturday, July 24 with a matinee performance on July 24. The theatre is operating at reduced capacity and recommends booking at sewellbarn.org in advance