12 November 2012

A fresh Aussie take for Noel Coward’s Private Lives

The play Private Lives written by Noel Coward in 1930 and considered one of the best examples of the British comedy is given a fresh Aussie take by Ralph Myers at Belvoir; does it work – well mostly.

Private Lives begins at an oceanside French hotel where, Amanda and Elyot, a divorced couple, have a chance run-in with each other while honeymooning with their new spouses. Their harsh tempers and incessant fighting originally drove them apart, but the couple admits they are still madly in love with each other. The pair decides to run away, ditching their new spouses without warning. When they hide out in Amanda’s Paris apartment, old habits emerge and they remember why they originally split up. Their new spouses catch up with them eventually in an attempt to sort everything out.
Toby Schmitz in Private Lives
For this production Mr Myers, who is the Artistic Director of Belvoir, takes on the roles of director and set designer. He takes the setting to a very modern blank white canvass, runs the three acts into one 90 minute chunk and ditches the middle class English accents. So if this play is, as it is for many theatergoers of a certain age, a favorite, some of this you’ll like and maybe like me some not so.
Surprisingly, ditching the accents worked very well as a means of modernizing the text, although the witty dig at the English’s middle class stuffiness intended by Coward is lost, and the play in one act is terrific for its pace and punch. The set didn’t work so well for me to start. The first scene is set  on the hotels elegant balcony’s but here it’s the corridor outside the hotel rooms with the players left to stand and wonder around. It didn’t make sense to me, so it took me till the second scene in Amanda’s apartment to relax totally into the great fun. And great fun it turned out to be. All of the cast are really excellent, the timing and pace is fabulous and the night I saw it the audience lapped it all up.

Zahra Newman and Toby Schmitz play Amanda and Elyot, and a very sexy, good on the eye pair they are. Ms Newman was new to me but I’ll certainly be looking for the next thing this Melbourne based actor does on the Sydney stage. Toby Schmitz who played the whole show in his dressing gown was super sexy as Elyot. His comic timing and air of dapper sophistication was just perfect – many in the audience would hastily volunteer for a dalliance.  
This after all was a vehicle just for Toby; whose career I‘ve enjoyed seeing blossom since I first saw him for the STC in 2000 as a fresh NIDA graduate in David Williamson’s The Great Man, and who it’s fair to say now at 35 is the hottest leading man of the moment. Next year he’ll return to Belvoir to star as Hamlet – make a note to grab tickets – which could possibly be his career defining role.

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