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8th-13th November 2021

Elyot Chase’s second honeymoon is both shaken and stirred by the discovery that ex wife Amanda is also enjoying a second honeymoon, and to make matters worse in the next suite sharing the same balcony. 

The captivating, mercurial Amanda and the world weary sophisticate Elyot begin to wonder if that first careless rapture they once shared is not a thing of the past after all. 

Coward’s glittering comedy of both good and bad manners, polished with his customary acerbic wit, not always obscuring the beating hearts of his characters, gives a delightful evening of love, laughter and occasional tears. Written for himself and his lifelong friend Gertrude Lawrence, the play has become a much-loved classic, delighting audiences in theatres the world over. 

Video trailer…


In rehearsal…

 


Reviews…

“Noel Coward goes to some trouble to ensure that every pairing that can conceivably appear on stage together does so. In this way, he demonstrates that the new marriages have occurred very much on the rebound and cannot reasonably have a future. The question that this begs of the play is how such sophisticates as Elyot and Amanda could ever have married these bright young things, who are by no means bright in at least one sense..” British Theatre Guide

“Those were very different times and some of the customs of the time seem very old fashioned and alien now; imagine having to stage an adulterous weekend in Brighton to be able to secure a divorce! This is not a politically correct play; I don’t think anyone would dare to write “certain women deserve to be struck regularly, like gongs” today. Despite this Amanda and Elyot’s relationship seems a very modern one.” London Theatre

“For all its familiarity, Private Lives is a hard play to bring off. Written by Coward as a virtuoso vehicle both for himself and Gertrude Lawrence, it requires four expert players to operate at the top of their games over three rather different and contrasting acts. When Alan Rickman played the lead in 2001 he described the challenge in these terms: ‘In Act One you’re up on the balcony in a Restoration comedy; then in Act Two you’re doing Chekhov; in Act Three, you’re in a Feydeau farce.’ What appears on its glittering surface to be merely a light comedy of manners is, in fact, three separate challenges that tests technique and emotional range to the highest degree.” British Theatre.com


About the Playwright…

Noël Coward, author of plays and musicals, composer of songs, director, actor and singer, known for his wit and flamboyance, was born in Teddington, Middlesex in 1899. Coward became stage struck at an early age, was appearing in amateur concerts by the age of seven, and attending the Chapel Royal Choir School.  He had little formal schooling, but was a voracious reader. Encouraged by his ambitious mother, he was sent to a dance academy in London and made his first professional engagement in the children’s play The Goldfish in 1911.

A leading actor-manager of the day, Charles Hawtrey, whom the young Coward idolised and from whom he learned a great deal about the theatre, cast him in the play Where the Rainbow Ends at the Garrick Theatre in the West End in 1911 and 1912. In 1912 Coward also appeared at the Savoy Theatre in An Autumn Idyll as a dancer in the ballet, and at the London Coliseum in A Little Fowl Play, in which Hawtrey himself starred. Italia Conti engaged Coward to appear at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in 1913, and in the same year he was cast as a Lost Boy in Peter Pan. He reappeared in Peter Pan the following year, and in 1915 he was again in Where the Rainbow Ends. He worked with other child actors in this period, including Hermione Gingold, whose mother regarded him as “that naughty boy”, and Gertrude Lawrence who, “gave me an orange and told me a few mildly dirty stories, and I loved her from then onwards.”

It was as a teenager he was introduced into the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of high society in which many of his plays, Private Lives, Hay Fever, Design for Living, Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit, etc. would later be set.

In 1924, Coward achieved his first great critical and financial success as a playwright with The Vortex, a story of a nymphomaniac socialite and her cocaine-addicted son, played by Coward himself. The Vortex was considered shocking in its day for its depiction of sexual vanity and drug abuse among the upper classes.   Its notoriety attracted large audiences, justifying a move from a small suburban theatre to a larger one in the West End. Coward raised the money to produce the play himself, and the success of The Vortex in both London and America caused a great demand for new Coward plays, and his career was forged. His work on stage and screen, in acting, writing and directing, spanned six decades, and added to this was his popularity as a nightclub entertainer on both sides of the Atlantic.

Private Lives was written and first staged in 1930 at London’s Phoenix Theatre when Coward played Elyot alongside his friend Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda, with a young Laurence Olivier as Victor and Adrianne Allen, mother of Anna and Daniel Massey, as Sybil. It was an enormous success.

By the end of the 1960s, Coward was suffering ill health, and during the run of Suite in Three Keys, he struggled with bouts of memory loss and retired from acting immediately afterwards. Coward was knighted in 1970. He died aged 73 at his home, Firefly Estate, in Jamaica on 26 March 1973 and was buried on the brow of Firefly Hill, overlooking the north coast of the island. A memorial service was held in St Martin-in-the-Fields in London on 29 May 1973, for which the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, wrote and delivered a poem in Coward’s honour, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier read verse and Yehudi Menuhin played. On 28 March 1984 a memorial stone was unveiled by the Queen Mother in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. Thanked by Coward’s partner, Graham Payn, for attending, the Queen Mother replied, “I came because he was my friend.”


From the Director…

I was very fortunate to grow up with parents who loved the theatre and cinema and so was taken to both from a very early age, much too young, in fact, to fully appreciate all I was watching, but as I was utterly fascinated with what was in front of me, I sat very quietly and was no trouble whatsoever. I saw numerous pantomimes, of course, and several productions of Peter Pan, starring various film stars, who it was very exciting to see for real instead of on the silver screen. I was definitely starstruck. Private Lives must be one of the first actual plays that I saw, and not only because the cocktail trolley, pushed by Amanda during the Act Two tussle, inexorably trundled over the stage to deposit its contents into the orchestra pit at that particular performance. Amanda had to apologise for that at the curtain call.  Over the years it’s certainly one of the plays I have seen most often, and I actually played Elyot in a production elsewhere some years ago.

Private Lives is an extremely clever, witty, beautifully constructed comedy, but with a real beating heart beneath the smart repartee. Elyot and Amanda are certainly “in love alright!”. The trouble is they just can’t stop bickering… but, they do enjoy the making up.  Some directors like to concentrate purely on the superficial cut and thrust of the witty Coward dialogue, but in some productions the director and his cast look deeper and find the beating heart I mentioned earlier. A recent production which really resonated with me was the one with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, who captured this most wonderfully, and even though there were some beautifully judged tearful moments of sadness and regret, it was still hilariously funny. As was another recent production with Kim Cattrall and Mathew Macfadyen, where they just about wrecked the whole of Amanda’s Paris flat during a real knock-down-drag-out fight. 

Our production of Private Lives should have reached the stage almost exactly twelve months ago, but due to lockdown, as with many other shows, it had to be postponed.  I’m more than a little fortunate to have a terrific company, onstage and off, who have all been working hard to do full justice to The Master’s brilliant play, even though we have all had to pay careful respect to Covid precautions along the way. 

John Ghent