Credit where credit is due and criticism when appropriate too. That is the approach I am taking for my review of Eltham Little Theatre’s production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives.
The plot is reasonably straight forward, we are introduced to two couples on their honey moon, one member of each newlywed used to be married, Amanda and Elyot, they begin to fight before realising they still love each other and elope. In act II we see the love-birds settled into a Parisian apartment where a mixture booze and nerves get the better of them until they end up tearing at each other’s throats. Finally, the lost member of each wedded couple arrives and the situation attempts to resolve itself.
The script – punchy, witty and satirical – is wonderful and was originally brought to life by the likes of Noel Coward himself and Laurence Olivier. Unfortunately, this production struggled through this brilliant comedy in most, if not all aspects of the production. Simply, this show often fell short of expectations in many areas.
For example, the set, costumes and lighting all felt poorly thought out, though the set did get better in the second act. Initially we are presented with two balconies where the two couples are honeymooning. They seemed a little drab and lacklustre; it seemed as though they were hastily painted with not enough attention payed to the details. Come the second act, there was an improvement as the set became the interior of an apartment with lovely touches such as a gramophone, a little bar-trolley and a delightful ashtray, just to name a few choice pieces of furniture. The lighting did very little throughout the production and at one point, in ‘the moonlight’ we were still presented with a white wash over the stage. Apart from lights up and down there was no real change at all. And finally, while some of the costumes were suitable most seemed odd, or as if people were playing dress-ups.
The cast was consistently average, save for Gabrielle Llewelyn Salter whose attempts to find comic timing were often drowned out by the rest of the cast. Accents were attempted but never consistent and as Elyot, G. Deiter Kunze scoffed, rushed or missed many of his lines. In more supporting roles were Gemma Porter and Andrew McNess who got through the show as the script demanded – their final confrontation with each other was fun, well timed and believable, I just wish the rest of their performance was the same. The main problem I found was that no one really enjoyed themselves. There was no effervescent chemistry between actors, no biting sarcasm nor were there the vitriolic attacks or moments of love that the two leads required. Admittedly the audience occasionally chuckled; however, I believe it was mostly due to the script rather than the delivery.
The direction, given by Susan Rundle, never became anything more than what was offered in the play itself and I felt as though actors were going through motions without really understanding why. Some of the funniest moments were Salter’s pronunciation of the name Sybil and her sly looks given to other characters. More attention to body language, intonation and pacing needed to be done to bring out the humour of the play; however, with actors speaking over the top of each other, dropping lines and what felt like a lack of understanding of what was being said, the script never really came to life.
The front of house staff were all lovely and the tea, coffee and biscuits as well as the glass of wine afterwards were wonderful. The play itself on the other hand is an example of a company missing the mark a little. Comedies such as Private Lives require finesse, extraordinary comic timing and chemistry between leads and Eltham Theatre’s production doesn’t quite rise to the challenge.