Monday, 8 October 2012

Private Lives, Belvoir Street Theatre

Yes, I occasionally see theatre outside Canberra (actually, I have a subscription to Belvoir Street - have been watching them on-and-off for over two decades). And this one's touring to the Canberra theatre in November anyway, so ... why not review?

The first thing to note is, yes, this is Noel Coward - who would seem to be the king of traditional theatre, with people swanning around in smoking jackets dropping bon mots stylishly. And ... certainly, there's a lot of bon mots in this one, as two couples on honeymoon discover that the husband in one couple used to be married to the wife of the other. And of course, the old familiar feelings start to swell to the surface, leading to all measures of bad behaviour. But it was never entirely a gentle romantic comedy - this is a play where the two leads are deeply selfish people, who leave a fair bit of disaster behind them (and, indeed, are probably physically dangerous to one another). Over the years, though, through a combination of casting too-old actors (Coward and Gertrude Lawrence were both in their early 30s when they orignally did it, but pretty much every revival I've seen lately has cast actors in their late 40s and 50s) and downplaying the physical combatitiveness, this has become the gold standard of safe, uneventful theatre.

So Belvoir gives us Noel Coward with the stick taken out of its arse. Belvoir's current house style is to perform plays in the actors natural accents (which in his case means, largely Australian, with Zahara Newman performing in her own natural Jamaican accent, which is to say, a slight American twinge), in a largely contemporary style. The production isn't perfect - I think the set choices are a little perfunctory (and sometimes work against the actors moving clearly - a shelf or two to put the cocktails in act one wouldn't have gone astray), and it's peculiarly poorly lit in places. But a good mix of quality performances (Toby Schmitz and Zahara Newman bring stylish charm, Toby Truslove continues his good line in "complete dork", and Eloise Mignion is suitably annoying - plus Misch Grigor is hilariously grumpy as the french maid) and some very clever blocking ensures that this is a very funny night out with a nicely cynical view of lust and love over a tight 100 minutes (no intermission).


  1. I frickin LOVE Toby Schmitz. Looking forward to seeing this in November. Though I'm deeply disappointed in the "no intermission" thing. I'd have thought two 50 minute acts and a nice interval for drinks would have been just thing for Coward - and all these one-acters must be killing the bar takings. Not to mention the frustration to those of us who invested in drink vouchers at the beginning of the season...

  2. Toby Truslove's performance was spot on, he deserves more credit than you gave him. As for the set, problematic is the kindest thing that could be said about it. No mention of Phil Collins?

    1. Oh, I give Truslove a lot of credit, he really nailed Victor as the just-not-as-cool-as-Elyot romantic competition. And I thought the Phil Collins was a highlight, switching in nicely a contemporary pop piece for Coward's period-pop. But yeah, I probably didn't rave enough in the right places.

      The phrase I probably should have used for the set is "butt ugly, awkward, and doesn't light well".