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Private Lives

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
If love is a bourgeois concept, as was suggested in the song of the same name by Pet Shop Boys last year, there are few plays that articulate it better than Noel Coward's dissection of unhappy honeymooners which he knocked out over a long weekend in 1930. Martin Duncan's production places a noticeably younger and sexier Amanda and Elyot on the adjoining balconies of designer Francis O'Connor's art deco erection of a white and pink hotel. Here each treats their new spouses Victor and Sybil with a mix of desperation and disdain, even as they cling to such classic mismatches for comfort before unfinished business of an altogether less ordinary kind comes calling.

All this may be archly played by John Hopkins as a narcissistic Elyot and Kirsty Besterman as a restlessly coquettish Amanda, but there's a brutal ennui at play too as the pair thrive on their own indulgent self-destruction. This mainly fires into life in the second act after the thrill-seeking couple have reignited their passion in Amanda's Paris flat when, beyond their post-coital tristesse, the only way to keep the flame alive is to rip each other to shreds. So, for all the play's superficial froth, there's a vulnerability at it's heart, and when Elyot hits Amanda, it's a genuinely shocking act.

Of course, in Coward's world, the morning after is as fresh a start as any, and the brittle politesse of the breakfast-time banter as the quartet scrunch up on a sofa barely disguises a rage that's picked up on by Emily Woodward's Sybil and Ben Deery's Victor as they embark on a tempestuous adventure of their own.

The Herald, February 20th 2014


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