It’s hard to believe that ‘Private Lives’, a show performed countless times by all manner of famous actors, is eighty-five years old. Yes, the outfits, accents and atmosphere oozed slick 1930’s, and the actors mirrored the mood with their pompous demeanor and haughty body language, yet the play itself is still as fresh, exciting and humorous as it has always been.
In Castle Theatre Company’s production, performed in the Castle Great Hall, the relationships between the characters were established from the outset. Both spouses to the leads (played by Izzie Price and Wesley Milligan) making needy, tiring comments, whilst Elyot and Amanda (Ben Cushion and Soraya Rahall) offered next to nothing in return.
The plays narrative centers around a divorced couple that, while honeymooning with their new partners, discover they are staying at adjacent rooms in the same hotel. The meeting of the two leads at the opening of the play quickly allowed the audience to understand the characters personality, experiences and feelings for one another instantly. The chemistry between Elyot and Amanda as they reminisce over moments passed is heightened by the pompous exterior the two characters emit, and with awkward pauses and smarmy comments, this only added to the comedic element of the scene.
The play itself is extremely text heavy, which would explain the odd line slip; unfortunately these were perhaps more obvious due to the intimacy of the audience. Yet the actors carried it off professionally and as a result the performance moved with a quick, slick pace. The text on the whole didn’t seem to faze any of the actors, with quick quips, jabs and sarcastic comments flitting through the speech between the characters with ease.
In all, the girls ruled the show. Amanda offered an effortlessly cool, sarcastic and gutsy demeanor. Meanwhile, Elyot’s wife, Sybil, was utterly hilarious throughout. Every line was spoken with a slightly hysterical tone, and her performance developed into a screaming shaken mess by the end of Act I. Almost every one of her lines got a laugh, and deservedly – she kept up the pace of the play with ease and carried off the wretched abandoned wife that her character encapsulated.
As the second act unfolded, with Elyot and Amanda deciding to flee their new spouses and start afresh, the audience watches the relationship between the two characters disintegrate, the scene ebbing and flowing between passionate embraces to raging arguments. Despite the aggressive nature of the confrontation, the play is kept lighthearted through sarcastic remarks and dirty looks shot between the couple, allowing the audience understand why the relationship ended in the first place.
The futile bickering progresses, leading to a confrontation where Elyot hits Amanda, and for one moment the play digresses into a darker place, as we understand the extent of the two characters distaste for one another, and perhaps themselves. But yet again, all the actors in the final few moments of the play pick up the show to its usual comedic element.
An amusing interaction between the characters and the French maid Louise, played by Lucy Watkiss, lightened the mood and we are reminded of the futility of the characters arguments and the ridiculous situation they put themselves in.
Ben Cushion’s performance of Elyot reached its pinnacle at this moment, by effortlessly conveying the rich and arrogant man that his character encapsulates. The audience couldn’t help but laugh at his sarcastic eye rolls and mocking remarks.
The play, despite its minimal props and lighting, kept me engaged from start to finish. This is a testament to the actors, director and producer of this production; and by the sound of the bellowing laughs resonating around me, I am confident the rest of the audience enjoyed it too.
Image: Castle Theatre Company.