Theatre review: Private Lives, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Noel Coward's Private Lives
Noel Coward's Private Lives
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ESCAPISM: it can be a phenomenon to break the heart, particularly in a country where so many have striven so hard, over the last 45 years, to create a “theatre that matters”, and actually says something to the people of Scotland about their lives and possible futures.

Private Lives | Rating: **** | Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Yet not a single show created in Scotland over those years - not even The Slab Boys, or the mighty Black Watch - has the same easy power to fill theatres as a play like Noel Coward’s Private Lives, which offers a fast track back to the reassuring world of the fictional 1930s, when dramatic structure was reassuringly rock-solid and predictable, the politics of class went unchallenged, and bright young rich things adorned the stage in some of the most elegant clothes ever created. And when a play as brilliant and feather-light as Coward’s comes gift-wrapped with a cast full of stars from Holby City, Casualty, Call The Midwife, Downton Abbey, and even Strictly Come Dancing - well then, there’s nothing to do but surrender to the play’s immense charm, and marvel at the size of the near-capacity audience who have rolled up to see it, on a dark Monday night in February.

And the quality of Tom Attenborough’s production certainly makes it easy enough to sit back and enjoy, as the play’s opening scenes roll out on a tide of laughter, and Lucy Osborne’s pretty, stylish set for the twin hotel balconies at Deauville gives way to the slightly chintzy luxury of Amanda’s Paris flat. Strictly winner Tom Chambers, as a youthful-looking Elyot, emphasises the slightly caddish, wide-boy aspect of the character, but seems thoroughly comfortable with Coward’s fast-moving, super-witty text as he does so; Charlotte Ritchie turns in a powerful performance as his new wife Sibyl, full of charm and intelligence. And if Richard Teverson’s deliberately stuffy Victor takes a while to get into his stride, the whole play increasingly revolves around the flame-like figure of Laura Rogers’s Amanda, apparently fragile and tentative at first, but finally glowing with charm, vulnerability, and steely self-determination. Rogers has already thrilled Edinburgh audiences in the past few months with her performance as male impersonator Kitty Butler in the Lyceum’s Tipping The Velvet; and here, she effortlessly captures Amanda’s rebellious, androgynous appeal, in a production that dwells very little on the play’s deeper sense of love’s transience, and the need to seize life’s magic while we can, but that does full justice to the pace and wit of Coward’s invention, and deserves its rousing final ovation.

• Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 27 February

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