'Everything a Noel Coward play should be'

You can see Noël Coward's Private Lives at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

You can see Noël Coward's Private Lives at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Anne Frizell

It is almost a sacrilege to admit that I have never been a huge fan of Noel Coward plays. 

All too often they have seemed dull and dated with too little effort made to put a spring in the step of the classic comedy that is at the heart of such timeless plays. 

But all that has changed since seeing the Company of Ten’s current production of Private Lives at the Abbey Theatre. 

This is everything Coward’s plays should be – superbly acted, very funny in parts and directed in such a way that you can take a modern view on a character and still care about them. 

Like Shakespeare, Coward has to be done well – and this is done very well indeed. In fact the reception that greeted the cast at the end was not just greatly deserved but demonstrated just how much the audience had enjoyed the play. 

Director Chris Bramwell must have been delighted to get husband and wife team Mark and Abbe Waghorn to take on the two key roles of Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne. 

Each has shown their pedigree in previous Company of Ten productions and both of them excel in Private Lives. 

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Mark was born to play Elyot, the cad who treats his new wife Sibyl appallingly as he pursues his former wife Amanda. 

He brought all the wit and humour to the role that Coward intended and more besides so that even though the character of Elyot is an anachronism, it is hard to dislike him. 

Abbe as the feisty Amanda, so different from Sibyl, is in tandem with him every step of the way. They are a perfectly matched couple with a rapport you would expect from their offstage relationship. 

The acting honours deserve to be shared by Sarah Hudson as Sibyl and Mitch Capaldi as Amanda’s new husband Victor Prynne. 

Even though their roles are smaller, by the end of the play they are not just emulating the two main characters but, had Private Lives not ended as it did, they might just have overtaken them. That’s how good they are. 

Completing the cast in the small role of Louise is Lisa Kinshuck whose French gruffness and mannerisms mirror a thoroughly enjoyable production. 

Private Lives runs until next Saturday, November 13, and tickets are on sale at www.abbeytheatre.org.uk 

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