Controversial for its time, Private Lives follows a divorced couple, Amanda and Elyot, who find themselves staying in adjacent apartments while honeymooning with their new spouses, Victor and Sibyl. The divorcees fall madly, dangerously, back in love with one another, running away to Paris together and leaving their forlorn ‘reboundees’ to follow them.
Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan in Private Lives, Donmar Warehouse. Photo: Marc Brenner
Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan are magnetic together as the volatile couple Amanda and Elyot. There’s a childishness to their lust, particularly in Mangan’s hot-and-cold mood swings. Dancing, smoking or lying in one another’s arms, their chemistry is palpable, as is the sense they’re only ever a comment away from a seismic fight.
Longhurst, working with fight director Kate Waters, makes each of these sequences a frightening affair. A glass smashed against a wall and a record shattered over a head are two of several flinch-worthy moments in his production, which make us question how these scenes could ever have been played for laughs.
Laura Carmichael and Sargon Yelda are decent as the play’s drippy other halves, Sibyl and Victor. Carmichael, in particular, captures the full scope of Sibyl, descending from excitable newlywed to distraught cast-off.
Sargon Yelda and Laura Carmichael in Private Lives, Donmar Warehouse. Photo: Marc Brenner
Designer Hildegard Bechtler’s set transports us from the hotel’s dual balconies to Amanda’s Parisian apartment by using a blue satin cloth to portray the sea in the first act, then whipping this away to reveal the apartment’s furnishings, including a chaise longue and a piano, underneath. It’s simple but does the trick.
It’s a treat to hear Coward’s deliciously romantic lines (‘there isn't a particle of you that I don't know, remember, and want’) spoken on stage and a powerful shock to hear some of the play’s more derogatory remarks (‘certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs’) that used to play for laughs. While Longhurst’s production isn’t trailblazing, it’s a reminder how far our views on gender equality have come in the last century.
|Private Lives, Donmar Warehouse review
|Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, WC2H 9LX | MAP
|Covent Garden (underground)
07 Apr 23 – 27 May 23, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
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