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Four actors delight audience in Noël Coward comedy of manners

Elyot (John-Robert Partridge) and Amanda (Katherine de Halpert).. Image by Andrew Maguire Photography 

Private Lives performed by Tread the Boards at The Attic Theatre, Stratford until 21 July. Directed by Keith Myers.

Review by Charles Essex.


After an enforced absence, Tread the Boards (TTB) are back with a bang.  Following their previous production, an hilarious run through of all Shakespeare’s plays at breakneck speed, TTB play to yet another of their strengths, a comedy of manners in Noël Coward’s Private Lives. 


The costuming was excellent with dinner jackets, evening dresses and silk dressing gowns evoking the late 1920s.  The set in the first act was a simple evocation of two adjoining hotel balconies, where divorcees Elyot (John-Robert Partridge) and Amanda (Katherine de Halpert) had come for their honeymoons with their respective new spouses.  Coward’s wonderfully clever script allows us to ignore the implausibility of the situation as it milks the scenario for every ounce of humour. 

Elyot (John-Robert Partridge, Sybil (Abigail Drennan), Amanda (Kathering de Halpert), Victor (Benedict Powell). Image by Andrew Maguire Photography.


John-Robert effortlessly conveys Elyot’s egotism and narcissism towards his naïve and innocent young wife Sybil (Abigail Drennan).  Katherine in turn portrays Amanda’s irritation with her new husband, the besotted but rather dim Victor (Benedict Powell).  Throughout, Katherine uses small facial gestures and eye-rolling to telling effect.


Even though the plot is predictable, the bickering, sparring and kiss-and-making-up of Elyot and Amanda are delightfully woven through the story. Abigail’s portrayal of Sybil’s distress at Elyot’s seemingly irrational behaviour at wanting to immediately leave the hotel and his appalling behaviour towards her was marvellously acted. 

Benedict Powell as Victor. Image by Andrew Maguire Photography 

After the interval, Sybil and Victor track Amanda and Elyot down to Amada’s Art Deco-styled apartment in Paris.  Inevitably the reasons Elyot and Amanda divorced surface again – frequently.  There was misogyny and misandry, and domestic violence and coercive and controlling behaviour between Elyot and Amanda that would not be acceptable in a modern play. However, the on-stage chemistry between John-Robert and Katherine was superb in the ebb and flow of anger and passion.  Coward’s script somehow enabled the audience to laugh at and enjoy their dreadful behaviour. 


Abigail’s and Benedict’s rendering of their respective characters’ naivety in the face of well-practised manipulators was excellent.  All four actors were word perfect and maintained their respective characters throughout.  This was yet another top-notch TTB production.

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