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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

PRIVATE LIVES (article first published : 2002-07-4)

Noel Coward wrote Private Lives in 1930 at the persistent nagging of his close friend, actress Gertrude Lawrence. The play has been described as the “creative coming together of the public Coward and the private Coward”. I know it well and perform excerpts regularly in a candelight theatre format.

I’ve also seen the show many times and have invariably been disappointed with the casting. While the male leads have reproduced the witty and waspish Coward dialogue with ease and aplomb, they have not always convinced me of the powerful sexual relationship and strong love bond between the protagonists Elyot and Amanda.

Briefly, the story deals with former marital partners Elyot and Amanda Chase who the fates design to meet up on the night of their honeymoon with their new partners, Partners who couldn’t be more unsuitable if they tried!

On the other hand, Elyot and Amanda couldn’t have been less suited – both mercurial, opinionated, highly volatile, extremely selfish and short-tempered, they can’t live with each other … and they can’t live without each other.

Coward’s script is sophisticated and extremely clever, always a joy to perform, and both his brittle humour and more tender moments are well handled by Warren Kimmel and Suanne Braun. Although I wasn’t happy with the latter’s costumes, apart from a gorgeous Oriental pyjama outfit in the second act.

Suanne brings elegance, sophistication and a fiery temper to Amanda but it is Warren Kimmel (who highly impressed me some months back in CATS) who steals the show. He produces the right level of disdain, dry wit, callousness and passion to Elyot while remaining charming and irresistible. I’d also have picked up my suitcase and followed him out of the door at the end of the play!

As Amanda’s new husband Victor, James van Helsdingen is suitably proper and unemotional, too seeped in the old school tie brigade to cope with a beautiful and elegant but complicated woman such as Amanda.

Alexandra Bairnsfather Cloete – now, there’s a name to reckon with! – is utterly delightful as the blonde bubbly Sybil whose high expectations of a romantic – and normal – marriage are irrevocably shattered in one of their rows in the opening scenes.

The part of the French maid is a thankless task. She appears in the final act and all she has to do is stumble over the furniture in the dark and produce refreshments. But without an actress with strong skills in the part, the play can seriously drift off-balance. Elise van Niekerk is tall and willowy with a delightful hauteur that all too plainly indicates her disapproval of the goings on in Amanda’s sumptuously decorated flat!

My only complaints were a flapping curtain revealing the props for the next scene and Suanne’s aforementioned costumes.

Don’t miss this when it plays at one of the Pieter Toerien theatres, it’s a sophisticated theatrical delight. – Caroline Smart




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