REVIEW: Private Lives @ Newcastle Theatre Company
It’s pretty hard not to like Noel Coward. Pretty hard not to get a laugh when performing his work, even if you don’t get all the laughs he wrote. Newcastle Theatre Company got plenty of laughs performing “Private Lives” this weekend even if they didn’t get them all.
An audience at NTC is loyal and comes prepared to enjoy and be entertained – a big advantage for any amateur drama group. Opening night audiences are always appreciative and this one was no exception. The set and the lighting are always excellent and this performance was true to form. The setting was minimalist but effective and the use of crew dressed as French maids to move objects about was inspired.
The cast seemed nervous (opening night nerves perhaps?) and I was surprised to find that the actors (Rosemary Dartnell and Richard Murray) playing Amanda and Eliyot were actually married to each other as their supposed “great passion” seemed rather forced and a trifle insipid. I had suspected at first that perhaps there was a spouse in the audience keeping a close eye on their embraces! Carl Gregory as Viktor was delightful; tentative in the first act but really coming into his own in the second. Dale Raftery had what I think is the most difficult role to make anything of, but she did a fine job of Sibyl who is constantly crying, shrieking or hysterical. It is difficult to sustain an accent as an amateur actor and everyone except Ms Dartnell let theirs slip at some point. There could be an argument for perhaps not playing it so resolutely upper class English-ly. After all the story would translate to anywhere and letting people speak in their own voices has to add to the believability of the play. It is jarring when a character who has been British suddenly briefly becomes Australian!
Another problem, and I assume it’s a recent one, is that it is hard now to get laughs or sympathy for a character who openly hits his wife. Although, surprisingly, it is still funny (to some) when a woman hits her husband. The audience were visibly and audibly shocked at the scenes of what must be called domestic violence and I did wonder if perhaps this play’s time has passed.
But it might be able to be re-written without the actual face slapping. In fact, there were a few places were a judicious change to a few words would have smoothed anachronistic awkwardness and made things a little clearer to a modern audience. But NTC know their audience and perhaps the authenticity is what matters most.
Reviewed by Chris Rogers