Review: Private Lives at the Churchill Theatre

This week, the Churchill in Bromley plays host to a shiny new production of Noël Coward’s most successful comedy, Private Lives, starring Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers. A terribly English comedy of manners, the play follows the tempestuous relationship of Elyot and Amanda, as they fight, laugh, drink, dance and fall repeatedly in and out of love. The problem? They’re both married to other people.

Following their divorce five years earlier, both Elyot and Amanda have remarried, and on the first night of their honeymoons find themselves – in a startling coincidence – staying in neighbouring hotel rooms in France. It doesn’t take long for old passions to resurface… but can they make their dysfunctional relationship work this time, and where does that leave their jilted partners?

Though it starts out very genteel, with a dashing hero and an elegant, witty heroine, the comedy grows increasingly riotous as the couple reveal their darker sides, and begin to veer wildly between love and hate. Though the suggestion that a successful relationship probably needs a bit of violence sits a bit awkwardly with a modern audience, the fight scene is nonetheless a wonderfully chaotic – and at the same time carefully choreographed – comedy moment, as Elyot and Amanda tear apart their elegant living room while their estranged partners look on in horror.

Private Lives

So the play itself is all (relatively) harmless fun, but is director Tom Attenborough’s production any good? Reviving such a popular classic is a risky business, but I’ll leave it to those who’ve seen other versions to judge their relative merits – though it seems fair to say no couple will ever be able to match the play’s very first stars: Coward himself and Gertrude Lawrence, for whom the part was written, and with whom he reportedly exchanged a series of bickering telegrams before she finally agreed to be involved.

That said, Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers are a great pairing in every way – their romance is as believable as their mutual loathing, the witty banter and physical comedy are spot-on, and there’s even an opportunity for them to show off their skills as musical performers (and for Tom Chambers to remind us why he won Strictly). In addition, each captures the complexity of their character; he’s smooth and charming, but childish with a nasty temper, while she’s beautiful and clever, but selfish and occasionally cruel. And it’s this that makes them so much fun to watch, because you literally never know what they’re going to do next, or whether they’ll end up kissing or killing each other. Their abandoned partners are played by the equally impressive Charlotte Ritchie and Richard Teverson, who manage to be quite incredibly annoying (and dull) considering we’re meant to be feeling sorry for them.

Photo credit: Alastair Muir
Photo credit: Alastair Muir

Private Lives is a classy new production that oozes charm and sophistication, even in its wilder moments. From Lucy Osborne’s set, which takes us from a sunny hotel terrace to Amanda’s glamorous apartment in Paris, to Ed Parry’s ‘pretty ravishing’ costumes, every detail combines to paint a picture of young, beautiful people living a life of selfish decadence – and yet Amanda and Elyot’s relationship drama is one that could happen to anyone. And while it’s impossible to decide if we love or loathe them, there’s certainly plenty of fun to be enjoyed while we figure it out.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Theatre round-up: 18 Aug 2015

These posts are gradually getting later and later in the week… I’ll try and get back on track for next week, but in the meantime here’s the round-up of the last hectic few days.

Blood Wedding

I was interested to see this adaptation of the classic Spanish play, having studied the text at A-Level (and then again at uni) but never seen it performed. The enjoyable production by Dreamcatcher Theatre at the Bread and Roses has all the drama and tragedy that I remember; it’s the tale of a doomed wedding, and its characters really don’t stand a chance from the start. The play was first performed in the 1930s and contains some pretty old school views on various issues, particularly gender roles, but it’s also strangely relevant at times to the world we live in today.

Blood Wedding review for LondonTheatre1

The Backward Fall

Part of the Camden Fringe, this play about two sisters packing up their childhood home after the loss of their mother to Alzheimer’s packs quite an emotional punch. The strained relationship between the sisters is convincing and well portrayed, and the play makes a powerful point about the ongoing impact of this life-changing condition, not just for the sufferer but for those around them as well. The Backward Fall, by Penny Productions, is based on stories, research and interviews with real people affected by Alzheimer’s, which only increases its power for the audience.

The Backward Fall review for LondonTheatre1


So much brilliance I don’t know where to start. Consolation, by Théâtre Volière, is funny, devastating and educational all at once. The unlikely friendship of a middle-aged woman who thinks she was a Cathar heretic in a former life, and a young re-enactor from the local visitors centre takes us on an emotional journey that spans several hundred years, and ends with a totally unexpected but brilliant twist. The cast are incredible and the set is simple yet ingenious. There are a couple of plot details I missed, but I’d happily head back to the Bridewell Theatre and do it all again (all three hours) to make sense of them – which just goes to show how good this play is.

Consolation review for LondonTheatre1

The Two Gentlemen of Verona / Hay Fever

Kent-based Changeling Theatre never disappoint; this year we enjoyed a double bill of Shakespeare and Noël Coward at the lovely Boughton Monchelsea Place. Changeling interpretations, directed by Rob Forknall, are always mischievous and full of humour, with a brilliant and adaptable cast who seem to be having the time of their lives. And a ridiculously cute dog, who got the biggest cheers of the day without actually doing anything.

Changeling review

Spirit of the dance

A spectacular show, featuring the Irish dancing made famous by the better-known Riverdance, but also including other dance styles too – flamenco, tap, ballet, and even a bit of the Highland Fling – Spirit of the Dance is colourful, energetic and entertaining. Besides the cast of eighteen dancers, this show at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford also welcomed special guests the Three Irish Tenors, who – while slightly detached from the rest of the show – get the audience singing along to a few crowd-pleasing classics while the dancers have a well-earned break.

Spirit of the Dance review for Dartford Living

This week's theatre

Next week’s theatre

Twelfth Night (Oddsocks) – Castle Cornet, Guernsey

Review: The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Hay Fever at Boughton Monchelsea

To paraphrase a famous proverb, two plays are better than one.

Which is why I found myself yesterday settling down for a double bill from Changeling Theatre, at Boughton Monchelsea Place. Having seen Changeling before (most recently doing Romeo and Juliet last summer), we were reasonably confident that we were in for a good time – and we weren’t disappointed. Which was probably just as well, or it could have been a very long day.

The Changeling experience begins the moment you arrive, as the cast wander among the audience, already in costume and character, selling programmes and helping themselves to your picnic. We also got a brief plot summary of the day’s first play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Proteus loves Julia, Valentine loves Silvia, but then Proteus falls for Silvia too and all hell breaks loose. Oh, and there’s a bit with a dog, which – as we all know – is what the people want.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Changeling Theatre
Ben Wiggins & Jessica Rose Boyd
Photo credit: Changeling Theatre

As always, every member of the cast gives it 110%, whether their role’s big or small. It’s always easier as an audience member to relax and enjoy the show if it looks like the actors are enjoying themselves, and this cast seem to be having the time of their lives, as they pull random audience members on to the stage and occasionally go off script altogether. Jessica Rose Boyd, who was a hysterical (in both senses of the word) Juliet last summer, is particularly fun to watch; her enthusiasm and energy are totally infectious. I loved Emma Rose Lowther’s cloak-swishing turn as Eglamore, too – it may be a small role, but she definitely knows how to make the most of it. And the excellent and hilarious Peter Dukes pretty much steals the show in the dual role of Launce and Thurio (and not only because he’s the one with the dog – although that might account for some of the cheers every time he appears on stage).

The play itself – believed to be Shakespeare’s first comedy – is sometimes a bit questionable; the treatment of women is particularly deplorable (dumped, tricked, given away etc). But just as we seem to be heading towards an utterly ridiculous conclusion, director Rob Forknall throws in a brilliant twist that proves girl power is alive and well, and ends the production on a high.

Changeling Theatre
Photo credit: Changeling Theatre

Next up was Noël Coward’s comedy of manners, Hay Fever, which, even by Changeling standards, is utterly bonkers. It’s the 1960s, and each member of the ‘bohemian’ Bliss family has invited a guest to their country house in Berkshire for the weekend, without telling the others. As the guests begin to arrive, the family try to be on their best behaviour… and fail spectacularly. Faced with incomprehensible games, family squabbles and unwanted declarations of love, the guests grow increasingly uncomfortable. It’s over the top, ridiculous, hammier than a bacon sandwich – and I loved it.

Felicity Sparks flings herself head-first (literally – the throw cushions adorning Clare Southern’s set get plenty of use) into her role as Judith: part-time mother, one-time movie star and full-time drama queen. A character who could have been incredibly annoying becomes, in her hands, both hilarious and oddly loveable, even as you want to shake her and tell her to pull herself together. David Whitney is great as Judith’s long-suffering husband, David, and Ben Wiggins and Jessica Rose Boyd are a perfect double act as her spoilt children, Simon and Sorel. To be honest, I could quite happily spend an evening just watching the two of them bicker back and forth.

Hay Fever, Changeling Theatre
Felicity Sparks
Photo credit: Changeling Theatre

Finally, neither production would be complete without the music, composed by Tom Barnes and played by the cast on a variety of instruments, from the fan organ and bassoon to the tambourine and triangle – with a bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown in for good measure. Particular highlights include original ballad, ‘Who is Silvia’ (lyrics by Shakespeare), from Two Gents, and Judith’s spectacularly awful rendition of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ in Hay Fever.

Sadly, the 2015 Changeling season finished tonight with a final performance at Boughton Monchelsea, but I’ll be booking my tickets to see what they have in store for us next year. One thing’s for sure: it’ll be different to anything we’ve seen before – and that’s why we love them.