Review: Coward play is more cotton than silk in this production

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Private Lives by Noel Coward, presented by Second Thoughts Theatre Company at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford

Amanda is married to Victor but used to be married to Elyot. Elyot is now married to Sybil, but secretly wishes he was still married to Amanda. Amanda has the same feelings for Elyot, but for now they are stuck with their respective spouses, whom they have each married for no very good reason except that their new partners adore them. Chance brings them all together on their respective honeymoons. Thus the scene is set for one of Noel Coward’s most brilliant plays, fairly bristling with barbed wit.

If we’re honest, most of us are intrigued by other couples’ bickerings: we like it when other people’s relationships turn out to be less perfect than our own. Soap operas thrive on that simple formula. But for that to be of more than passing interest the banter has to have something more.

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Coward’s play does, of course. The wit hides some dark truths, not least the fear that getting along with other people is a lot like work, and work is what other people do.

Second Thoughts make a fair stab at the play, which should be as quick and light as silk but in this production appeared at times a bit too cotton-like. The action was best when it got physical, which wasn’t often enough. Stephanie Jepson as Sybil does histrionics well. Alex Kapila is lithe as Amanda, Bernard Hall is manly as Victor, Justin Osborne cynical as Elyot. And Gill Hines is very funny as the French maid Louise. But on the whole they seemed uncomfortable in their parts. Watching it felt a bit like wearing someone else’s smoking jacket.

* Private Lives runs until tomorrow (Saturday). Call 01789 403416 for tickets.