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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Haymarket - Private Lives

16th June to 8th July 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Polished Coward

Private Lives, at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, until July 8

Perhaps the World Cup match between England and Sweden meant that the official opening night of this classic Noel Coward play was not as fully attended as previous events. If so, then people missed what is possibly the most polished, classy production of the season.

Noel Coward's tripping, witty dialogue is a challenge to the most deft of players. They have to make the decision to be either very Celia Johnson and terribly terribly crisp, or to imbue the parts with a sense of modern realism, and in this production they chose the latter without losing the sense of the 1930s period.

The characters are wonderfully convincing, funny and lovable. We sympathise totally with the plight of Elyot and Amanda, the divorced couple who meet up by accident on their respective honeymoon nights with their new partners, on the terrace of an idyllic French hotel, with views over an enchanting bay, yachts and all. The clever use of the sound of the sea and the Palm Court Orchestra gives the whole piece an instant atmosphere.

The two leading parts are to die for, and Roger May and Emma Cleasby do great justice to them, ably assisted by a very prim and pretty Sophia Linden and the thoroughly decent egg, Kevin McGowan, who play the respective new spouses of the embittered ex-marrieds. For good measure we get a very physical performance from Fiz Marcus as the eccentric maid, Louise.

I was particularly impressed with Miss Cleasby, who has a highly engaging quality and is totally watchable. At first, it worried me that her glib, rapid delivery would detract from the beautifully written dialogue, but as my ear tuned in, I was totally convinced by her performance, although she probably lost some laughs with her downward inflection.

Costumes and sets by Elroy Ashmore are elegant and practical, while the lighting and sound complemented the traditional production. I enjoyed the delightful selection from Coward's great songs; Someday I'll Find You, Mad About the Boy, and I'll See you Again.

In the second frantic act when the divorced couple find their rekindled love is not as fulfilling as they had hoped, there is the most energetic fight scene which genuinely amused and amazed the first night audience, superbly set by Renny Krupinski. Along with this was some beautiful choreography by Bev Norris Edmunds.

The director, John Adams, should be proud of this production. One can only wonder why the Arts Council have denied this theatre a grant, when such well-crafted and beautifully presented performances are on show.

Rush to see it - it's a real summer special: probably the perfect antidote to England's inevitable demise. Runs until July 8.