Private Lives by Noel Coward

Wyvern Theatre

Two balconies, two newly-married couples on honeymoon, music, moonlight and romance – all looks perfect as Noel Coward’s Private Lives begins.

What London Classic Theatre’s fine production emphasises from the outset is just how brittle these new weddings are.

Sophisticated Elyot, played by Jack Hardwick, stands resolutely apart from his new bride Sybil, who is played with more than usual neediness by Olivia Beardsley. Watching her agitated hand-wringing while she begs to know if her husband still loves his first wife, we suspect this brittle young woman already knows her husband has no great passion for her, even on their wedding night.

Glamorous Amanda, played by Helen Keeley, is also having trouble convincing brand new husband Victor (Kieran Buckeridge) that she has put her ex behind her. For all the cocktails, and the sea view, the passion is failing to ignite – until, that is, the Amanda realises who is standing on the balcony next door.

The set for this classic comedy is appealing, with two pairs of tall French doors in the first half, and an elaborate Parisian apartment in the second, complete with period prints, chaise longue and taciturn maid.

Keeley and Hardwick generate a convincing chemistry between the two leads, and their alternating bouts of love and hate. Buckeridge and Beardsley flesh out their secondary roles well, Beardsley’s neurotic frustration exploding in a most satisfactory rage at the end of the play.

While the dynamic of Elyot and Amanda’s relationship seems timeless, the violence between them jars a contemporary sensibility – the audience gave an audible gasp when Elyot strikes her.

The play cracks on at a fair pace, sometimes at the cost of the wit and subtlety of the dialogue – which is unfortunate as the joy of the piece lies in Coward’s superb writing. They could slow down a little. Nonetheless, the audience relished the performance from start to finish, judging by the peals laughter and rapturous applause.

Private Lives runs at the Wyvern till Saturday October 7. Tickets are £19 with concessions available. To book, call 01793 524481 or visit