Private Lives – Review

cube essential theatre
reviewed by Jenni Balow

It’s cocktail hour at the Minack as Private Lives come under the glare of the spotlight in this classy production by the many-sided Truro based cube essential theatre.

The mood of the Thirties is set by a crooner with a view, Keith Sparrow, taking the audience through a medley of songs by Noel Coward, who wrote, directed, sang and acted in the original play.

This week’s director is Kyla Goodey, working with designer Anna Finch, to take us over the Channel to a hotel in Deauville, where honeymooners Elyot (Ben Symes) and Sibyl (Nix Wood) have just arrived.

Sweet, simpering, insecure Sibyl is all of a quiver, and 17 years younger than her sophisticated new husband. She is anxious to be reassured that she is a match for the glamorous woman he divorced five years earlier, as she changes for drinks and appears on the terrace resplendent in ………er, beige.
In an adjoining suite, another newly-wed couple have also arrived from England independently.

Mandy (Rebecca Hulbert) looks scintillating in stripes, and is ready for that cocktail as she heads for the terrace, while her sedately suited pipe-smoking husband Victor (Ben Oldfield) dresses for the evening.
As Coward’s signature song Someday I’ll Find You fills the air, Elyot and Mandy each hum the tune from their adjoining suites, and guess what, the former husband and wife are ill-met by moonlight, once again.

Ben Symes and Rebecca were memorably last seen together on the Minack stage in Macbeth as ‘Mr and Mrs M’ in arguably the most powerful drama of the season, and they square up to one another with total conviction.

In this play, Mandy describes the sparky mutual attraction with Elyot as “a chemical what-do-you-call-it” and that is exactly what they have on stage.

The play has been analysed a thousand times, because for all its fun and biting wit, it shocked the censor at the time, with the intimacy portrayed between a divorced couple, and, on the other hand, their violence towards one another.

In the 80 years since it was written, society has changed in many ways, but only Coward could get away with Elyot asserting that “certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs”.

Meanwhile, Sibyl “who mustn’t quibble” weeps and wails entertainingly, especially when accompanied by music from a French accordion, and Victor sucks on his pipe like the stuffy old thing he is, perfectly on cue.

The French maid (Simone Hellier) deftly filches brandy and cigarettes and gives us a smoky Piaf-inspired farewell song.

There are so many good sides to this cube production I’m sure that Noel Coward himself would have been happy to join the cast for cocktails after the show.