Brilliant and hilarious were among the many superlatives from the audience after the cast of Private Lives had left the stage at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium on Friday night.

There was no doubt that OVO’s new production of the Noel Coward classic had delighted the audience by the intensity of the applause that greeted the final curtain call.

For in the hands of OVO and its founder Adam Nichols who directs Private Lives, it was what can only be described as a pretty perfect evening.

Of course the weather helped – it was warm enough at 10pm when the play ended to still be comfortable in short sleeves. But it was way more than just that.

The production, part of OVO’s summer open air festival, demonstrated how timeless Coward’s plays can be in the right hands.

Set designer Simon Nicholas did not steer far away from the traditional set for Private Lives and he was right not to.

The hotel balcony where the two divorcees Amanda and Elyot discover they are honeymooning with their new partners in adjoining rooms doubles up as the upper floor of the apartment in Paris they run away to when they decide they cannot live without each other.

That allows plenty of storming off and sheepish returns, not to mention perfectly capturing the cleverness of Coward’s ending to the play.

Adam and his cast milk the production for laughs at every opportunity and introduce episodes of slapstick and farce for good measure.

Even the potted plants that delineate the adjoining balconies are put to entertaining use.

Taking the roles of Amanda and Elyot are Emma Wright and Mat Betteridge who were so excellent in OVO’s production of Beginning and Middle last year.

They have a rapport that is rarely found in local theatre productions and it was very much in evidence in their roles as the warring lovers.

As their new-found passion starts to disintegrate in Paris, they leap over chairs, overturn the furniture in the apartment and in his case, hilariously knocks back umpteen brandies to spite her.

Their performances were so good, it is hard to believe that anyone could match them but Charlie Clee as the upright Victor, Amanda’s new husband, and Grace Bassett as the permanently-tearful Sybil, Elyot’s second wife, manage just that.

Their scene as they arrive at the flat and what occurs there is the comedic high spot of the play.

It would be wrong not to mention the cameo role taken by Josephine Rattigan as the maid Louise. From her first turn on the piano singing Je Ne Regrette Rien to her flirting with Victor on the sofa, she was priceless.

It is hard to believe that the play which produced the immortal line Certain Women Should Be Struck Like Gongs would be such a delight for a 21st century audience. But without a shadow of a doubt, this production demonstrates it is.

Further performances of Private Lives are being held throughout July and August and details can be found at