Friday, 31 January 2014

Private Lives, MTC, Jan 31, 2014 ***1/2

By Nöel Coward, Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, Jan 31 until March 8, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Full review will appear after publication in Herald Sun online today, Fri Jan 31, 2014, or in print. KH
Nadine Garner and Leon Ford

In his 1930 comedy of manners, Private Lives, Nöel Coward drapes a gossamer-thin veil of wit and flamboyance over two spiteful lovers, allowing us to laugh at their awful behaviour without feeling too politically incorrect.

By some cruel fate, divorced couple, Elyot (Leon Ford) and Amanda (Nadine Garner), meet again while both are honeymooning with their new spouses in a luxury, French hotel, and their volatile relationship is reignited with disastrous results.

Their rekindled passion sends them fleeing, in a flurry of deceit, to Amanda’s Paris flat where they sip cocktails, dance to gramophone records and lounge about in the languorous afterglow of lust – until the bickering and slapping starts all over again.

Coward’s notorious ‘theatricality’ – these days unmasked as campery – litters the play with his inimitable, entertainingly witty banter, acerbic arguments, clipped articulation, flamboyant costumes and dandyish behaviour.

Ford is suitably cool, sophisticated, foppish and acid-tongued as Elyot while Garner balances posturing elegance and delicious seduction with slapstick.

Their coupling tumbles amusingly from glamorous teasing, posing and pouting, into irrepressible passion that escalates into bitter acrimony and absurd violence.

Despite their characters’ narcissism, cruelty and infantile tiffs, Ford and Garner manage to make them charming and sympathetic.

Lucy Durack is delightfully prim, pretty and demanding as Sibyl and John Leary gives dowdy Victor a feisty edge when he challenges Elyot to fight.

Julie Forsyth almost steals the show in her inspired cameo as French maid, Louise, who sneezes, scoffs and stumbles in a consummate, understated clown act.

Although Sam Strong’s production is set in the 30s, he incorporates contemporary songs with some period tunes that are all played on piano and sung by this versatile cast.

The modern music may engage younger audiences with this period piece, but Coward die-hards may be less enamoured of such musical updating.

The performances are accomplished and colourful and the production enjoyable, but the level of languor, vanity and flamboyance could go up a few notches to make it, well, more Cowardish.

The second act seems to spins its wheels with Elyot and Amanda’s repetitive dialogue until the fighting starts and the deserted spouses arrive.

The elaborate, realistic design (Tracy Grant Lord) emphasises 1930s opulence, and Strong’s use of the revolving stage provides some hilarious opportunities for door-slamming farce, although it is a bit dizzying after too many twirls.

This is a diverting production that may entice a new audience to a love of Coward’s wry humour and 1930s style.

By Kate Herbert
 John Leary, Nadine Garner, Leon Ford, Lucy Durack
Director Sam Strong; 
Set & Costume Designer Tracy Grant Lord;
Lighting Designer Paul Jackson; 
Composer Mathew Frank;
Assistant Director Tanya Dickson

No comments:

Post a Comment