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REVIEW: Private Lives at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

REVIEW: Private Lives at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

Private Lives
by Noël Coward
Directed by Christopher Luscombe

The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Rating: ★★★


A sumptuously furnished living room on the Battledown estate.  A grand piano stands in the corner.  Miranda is reclining on a chaise-longue.  She is wearing ivory-coloured silk pyjamas and languidly smoking a cigarette.

MIRANDA:  Oh, darling!  I’m so gloriously, outrageously, deliriously, magnificently happy that we’re recently married!  Aren’t you?!

BLAINE:  [Entering in his dressing gown, carrying two cocktail glasses]  Of course, my dearest darling.  [Handing her a glass]  Gin and It?

BLAINE & MIRANDA: [Raising their glasses]  Mud in your eye!

They drink.  As the alcohol hits his stomach, Blaine’s mood swings.

BLAINE:  Sweet and precious angel, I’m absolutely furious that you decided to buy this house.  We’re now living cheek-by-jowl with your wealthy, dashing ex-husband, Max.

MIRANDA:  Oh, my dearest, darling man, how was I to know that Max had cashed in his chips and moved to Battledown?

BLAINE:  It’s an implausible coincidence.  If this were the opening scene of a play, no-one would believe it.

MIRANDA:  Poppycock!  This scenario would be the perfect springboard for a sophisticated comedy that would take three Acts to play out.  We’d be the leading characters, of course.

BLAINE:  Bien sûr.

MIRANDA:  There’d be a couple of supporting characters, such as my wealthy, dashing ex-husband and neighbour, Max, and his dull, mousey bride, Harriet.  There’d be a small role for our maid, Anoushka, who’d offer an amusing commentary on our alarums and excursions.

BLAINE:  Would this play examine the idea that a domestic life of violent, histrionic passion is preferable to one of conventional, dreary routine?

MIRANDA:  Yes, it would.  And it would include frank depictions of physical and psychological abuse that modern audiences would consider transgressive – as well as wry humour and ageless melodies.

BLAINE:  Would it expose the dark underbelly of the private lives of apparently contented couples?

MIRANDA:  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

BLAINE:  To Hell with your manipulative mind-games!

He slaps her, hard.

MIRANDA:  To Hell with your insufferable jealousy!

She slaps him, harder.

Blaine walks over to the grand piano and begins to play furiously.  Gradually, his anger subsides and his playing mellows.  Miranda joins him at the keyboard.  Together, they sing:

First, things were feisty,
Then they grew icy,
Next we got a decree nisi ...

BLAINE:  [Abruptly]  We should go upstairs and change.

MIRANDA:  It’s too early for dinner.

BLAINE:  We’re off to the Everyman.

MIRANDA:  To see …?

BLAINE.  Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”.  It’s a Nigel Havers Theatre Company Production.

MIRANDA:  Starring?

BLAINE:  Nigel Havers.

Miranda raises a single eyebrow.

BLAINE:  Havers and I were in the same cricket team.  He used to stand on the boundary, his back to the field of play, eyeing-up the ladies in the crowd.

MIRANDA:  Typical Nigel!  Actually, we were once engaged …

Blaine is disconsolate.

MIRANDA:  Oh, Blaine.  Does it upset you that I’ve lived a … full life?

BLAINE:  I suppose it does.


He slaps her.  She thumps him back.

MIRANDA:  Kiss me.

They kiss passionately.

BLAINE:  I should mention, he’s playing opposite … Patricia Hodge.

MIRANDA:  [Sourly]  She’s come a long way since “Holding the Fort”.

BLAINE:  Darling, she beat you to the part.  Fair and square.  It’s silly to hold a grudge after all these years.

MIRANDA:  Before I decide whether to spend the evening in HER company, I want to know what Explore Gloucestershire has to say.

Blaine removes a mobile phone from his dressing gown pocket.  He navigates to the Explore Gloucestershire website.

BLAINE:  Four stars.  “From the moment that Nigel Havers makes his entrance, tacitly acknowledging the affectionate applause with a sly smirk, we know we’re in safe hands”.

MIRANDA:  What does this reviewer-fellow have to say about the Hodge woman?

BLAINE:  “Patricia Hodge’s clear-sighted, straight-talking Amanda is more than a match for Nigel Havers’ petulant, havering Elyot.  From the moment she sternly ignores the warm applause that greets her entrance, we know she means business”.

MIRANDA:  “Havering”?  Is that a word?

BLAINE:  It means “dithering”.  I think the reviewer-fellow is trying to convey the sense that Elyot is a lightweight, while amusing himself by making a feeble pun on the surname of the actor who plays him.

MIRANDA:  I see.  Well, it sounds better than another evening in front of Netflix.  [Gesturing towards the door]  Shall we?

BLAINE:  Yes.  Let’s.

They exit, arm in arm.

Running time: 2 hours (including interval)
Private Lives runs at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, until Saturday 5 February 2022.

Reviewer: Paul Sharples
Explore Gloucestershire
2 February 2022

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