Chichester's Private Lives: never was it needed more

REVIEW: Private Lives by Noel Coward, Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 12:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 12:18 pm
Patricia Hodge as Amanda and Nigel Havers as Elyot in Private LIves - pic by Tristram Kenton
Patricia Hodge as Amanda and Nigel Havers as Elyot in Private LIves - pic by Tristram Kenton

Like re-reading a favourite book or munching through a bar of delicious chocolate, watching Private Lives is one of those comforting, decadent experiences which is as satisfying as it is unchallenging.

Never was it needed more than after the hell of the past two years.

And who better to serve it up than Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers - who are rightly so beloved by Chichester audiences.

This 1930s souffle of a play was tapped out by Noel Coward in a matter of days. Like so much of his work, the plot was incidental. It was a vehicle for him to deliver a string of waspish one-liners that would have the audience roaring approval.

Since then, the humour has dated a bit and a brief moment of physical domestic violence feels entirely inappropriate.

In these fast paced times, there is also a sense that a little more plot would help this relatively short masterpiece along a little better.

But set that apart.

Hodge and Havers are supremely elegant as the former husband and wife who remeet again on their respective honeymoons with new partners.

There then follows a predictable can't live with them, can't live without them scenario.

This is comfort theatre at its best - a wonderful vignette to warm the hearts on a miserable November evening - presented less by the stars that they are than old friends of our city.

Gary Shipton