Noël Coward would probably have loved the setting of his masterpiece Private Lives within the grandeur of Castle Great Hall, and that the audience members were compelled to come dressed to the nines. Not to mention the fact that Castle Theatre Company perfectly understand the play’s tones of farce and satire. Their performance expressed this easily and as a whole it was an utterly entertaining show.
The play begins with two couples of newly-weds who happen to be honeymooning at the same hotel; Elyot (Ben Cushion) and his new wife are staying in one room oblivious to the fact that Elyot’s ex-wife and her new husband are spending their honeymoon in the adjacent room. Upon meeting again the ex-lovers swiftly abandon their new spouses and set off to start their life together again. It is in these early scenes where CTC’s cast really excel in mirroring one another as the writing decrees. Wesley Milligan, as Amanda’s new husband Victor, and Izzie Price, playing Elyot’s young wife Sybil, interrogate their spouses in matching tones of uncertainty and worry about that first marriage. Ben and Soraya Rahall, playing Amanda, Elyot’s ex-wife, also mirror each other in these scenes before they meet, and they continue this further in their scenes together. In this way the cast worked as an impressive ensemble despite the fact that there is only one scene which has all five actors together – yes five! Lucy Watkiss’ Louise the French maid really added a novel element of humour to the show as the tutting, appalled servant.
Due to the ridiculously over-the-top language of the farce, melodramatic acting is to be expected, and the cast delivered amiably. This is particularly excellent with Izzie’s performance, shrilling and squawking as the outraged Sybil. With her emphatic facial expression and vocal ranges she embodies the satirical and humorous aspects of the play.
Yet it is the inimitable language of Coward itself which made the evening; it was the lovely quip “don’t quibble, Sybil” which led to one of the first big laughs of the night. Ben and Soraya’s drastic expressions of undying love turning into aggressive threats were gracefully managed leaps of feeling and hardly ever became disjointed.
The “sollocks” episodes give plenty of scope for directorial decisions, and Louisa Mathieu used them to make effective use of the space available to her cast. “Sollocks” is the catch-word Amanda and Elyot use to take a break from their incessant bickering. The variations in the physical proximity of Soraya and Ben beautifully depicted the feelings of their characters towards one another. Mathieu did an admirable job, using this lovely venue to great advantage.
The scenery for this production is particularly lovely – especially when combined with the Great Hall of course. Ivy hangs in elegant sweeps over the set which is first a balcony with white balustrades, and is later Amanda’s Parisian flat complete with authentically grand furniture. The light coming onto the stage front is particularly effective in the play’s opening with Sybil looking out at the sunset, and the light shining in her face makes this feel authentic. Music too was used to great effect at times, but in the background it was often just a little too quiet to be appreciated.
The only real shame is that this is a one night only event. There were a couple of hiccups with actors forgetting their lines and awkward pauses which would easily have been resolved by night two or three if there were such an opportunity.
Overall CTC’s production of Private Lives was very pleasing, with a cast that is more than a match to Coward’s writing. “Don’t be so melodramatic,” says Amanda to Elyot in one scene, but I oppose this: do be melodramatic, Castle Theatre Company, you do it so well!