Review – Private Lives, Hampstead Theatre

Thursday 5 February 2009


The Whingers are très farouche when it comes to their private lives.

In Andrew’s case this is because he has no life to speak of.

In Phil’s case it’s because he lives in a complete fantasy world.

Yet although their lives are so dramatically different it is often only a stalls seat armrest that separates them (unless – as is often the case – they are reduced to sitting in the cheap seats in the front few rows of the Olivier or Lyttelton theatres where armrests are just a dream).

Yet watching Amanda and Elyot in Noël Peirce Coward‘s Private Lives constantly putting each other down and bickering in the most childish manner resonated for some reason.

Anyway, the Hampstead Theatre famously put itself on the map in 1962 when it revived Private Lives and revitalised interest in Coward’s work. So, fittingly, as part of the celebrations for the theatre’s 50th birthday they  have re-revived it.

The story is a famous classic: when divorced couple Amanda (Claire Price) and Elyot (Jasper Britton) find out that they are honeymooning with their new spouses not only in the same Deauville hotel but with adjoining balconies they realise they are still in love with each other (here any similarity to the Whingers obviously ends).

private-lives-jasper-brittonThe Whingers went with some trepidation. Like The Importance of Being Earnest, Private Lives is one of those plays so familiar that you doubt whether you can really be bothered to sit through it again despite its excellence.

But we shouldn’t have worried. This felt as fresh as they day it was written.

Jasper Britton (fast becoming a dependable WEW fave despite his unfortunate involvment in Fram) is an excellent Elyot. Claire Price (new on the Whingers’ radar) gives us an Amanda who not only gives as good as she gets but also looks terrifically suited to the twenties period, her wide-eyed profile putting Phil in mind of a character from an H M Bateman cartoon or even a young Gladys Cooper (and Phil’s old enough to remember  – or was he thinking of Tallulah Bankhead?).

private-lives-hampstead-theatreLucy Briggs-Owen makes a particularly good Sybil, especially on the balcony scene in which she compensates for her under-written role with some fine comic delivery.

This is not cut-glass Coward but something much more interesting. It’s funny, touching, engaging and even occasionally gripping.  The Whingers loved it  and frankly thought that it knocked the Alan Rickman version of a few years ago into a cocked hat (which, incidentally, we remember as being about three days long; under Lucy Bailey‘s direction this came in at two hours).

The noisy/noiseless closing moments were excellently played; the two minute silence utterly compelling

Congratulations too to designer Katrina Lindsay for her excellent design which is unusually staged half way up the Hampstead proscenium as a long thin strip of set  – like watching in Cinemascope but without the close ups. We wish we had not read John Morrison’s review beforehand though as we couldn’t take our eyes off the Act One door handles.

As annoying, self-centred people we shouldn’t really care about these annoying, self-centred people but – and as a welcome antidote to the annoying, self-centred people in last night’s Spring Awakening – we did and we do.


Someone was munching something very noisily during the second act, Andrew was desperate to know what could possibly be so crunchy. He wanted some of whatever it was – badly – in case for some reason the Whingers were ever forced to go and see Spring Awakening again.

Phil was reminded of a Saturday matinee in the old Hampstead Theatre many years ago whejacobs-cream-crackersre one of the many pensioners struggling to keep up with What the Butler Saw produced a packet of Jacob’s Cream Crackers and proceeded to work his way through the whole packet, methodically buttering each one before noisily consuming it.

2 Responses to “Review – Private Lives, Hampstead Theatre”

  1. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    I am surprised Lucy Sunderland hasn’t posted anything yet. Oh yes, of course, she doesn’t go to the theatre.

  2. Suzie Bee Says:

    I saw this last night and thought it was excellent. Very funny. I was thinking on the way home that this is what “new writing” should be aiming for. Why does everything have to be so “relevant” and “cutting edge”?

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