The critics have their say on Michael Longhurst’s production which has officially opened at the Donmar Warehouse.
Broadway World: *** “For all the pleasure to be taken in the wit, in the craft, in the confidence of the writing and performances, the alternating protagonists / antagonists – Elyot and Amanda – are more like bratty kids than adults in middle age. Sure we all know relationships like this exist, but they’re hard to live with on the inside and just as hard on the outside. The egoism wears you down, for all the smartarse appeals to flippancy as the only suitable response to a mad and maddening world. It’s all rather too adolescent by the end, the jokes drowning in a sea of entitlement.”
Time Out: *** “Stirling and Mangan deliver: I didn’t mind a lower laugh rate for the sake of a bit of psychological acuity. His take on Elyot, in particular, is original and fascinating, and if she’s a little more trad then we need her comic firepower. But in the end I think Longhurst is too trusting of the text to see him through to a meaningful ending: there is a brilliant dark take in ‘Private Lives’, but this is only two-thirds of it.”
The Guardian: *** “Love is a tempestuous, abusive affair in Michael Longhurst’s sleek staging of Noël Coward’s intimate tragicomedy. In a production that grows in confidence as the night goes on, the highs and lows of an addictive, damaging relationship are shown through impromptu charleston dances and furiously smashed glasses. Here, love is savage and inescapable.
Evening Standard: ** “Behind the dressing gowns, cigarettes and entitlement, Coward derides monogamy, marriage, religion and – above all – seriousness. He is always ripe for reappraisal, and some of his attitudes require rigorous interrogation, but here, the whole thing never adds up.”
City Am: *** “There are some brilliant comic performances. Stephen Mangan is ferociously good as Chase, the template of a toxic man who will say anything agreeable for an easy life and quite comfortably mean none of it.”
iNews: *** “For this play to take flight requires one of the most precision-tuned double-act pairings in all of drama. Forget Romeo and Juliet: we need to believe in the fierceness of the love, desire, intellectual spark and mutual loathing felt by divorced couple Amanda and Elyot and that is a fiendishly tricky equilibrium to establish and then maintain. Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling give it a decent shot but, stubbornly, there is something missing.”
London Theatre.co.uk: *** “Thanks to Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael has a natural facility with period dialogue, and she brings plenty of dimension to the cloying, insecure Sybil — whose immediate response to Elyot’s irrationality is to mother him (“What’s the matter, darling, are you hungry?”).”
WhatsOnStage: **** “What both Longhurst and the actors bring out with such clarity is the way that the attraction between Amanda and Elyot is part and parcel of a battle for dominance that distorts all human relationships.”
The Stage: *** “Sharp-edged revival brings out the cruelty in Noël Coward’s classic comedy.”
Theatre Weekly: “This is a chic revival of Noël Coward’s comedy of manners; despite the rather thin plot, Michael Longhurst has teased out all of the redeeming features of Private Lives, and given them the prominence required to make this a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.”
The Reviews Hub: *** 1/2 “As a means of showing that darkness under the upper-class veneer of which Coward was so adept at writing, it is brutally effective. The difficulty is that it makes the cycles of behaviour, the instant rapprochement between the warring duo as they revert to comedic quips, much less believable.”
The Independent: ** “Coward’s writing should glide, but here the abrupt, stark changes of tone lurch like a tanker. Giddy repartee judders into the kind of lugubriousness you’d expect in a kitchen sink drama. Yes, some of the lines feel icky and unfunny now – “certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs” – but this production seems to frowningly underline each of them in heavy pen. It’s an intervention that seems facile; these characters aren’t meant to be paragons of virtue. Amanda and Elyot are two people drawn to one another, who seem destined to hurt one another, walking a fine tightrope between love and hate, desire and repulsion.”
The Telegraph: **** “Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling lead a revival that features not the usual harmless lovers’ ding-dong but distressing domestic violence.”
All That Dazzles: ***** “From the exquisite staging, flawless direction, and truly immeasurable cast, there is nothing flippant about this sensational production which easily manages to be more successful than any of the marriages in the show.”
Lost in Theatreland: *** “Ultimately, it feels like a faithful, honest interpretation that takes us back to the 1930s and our ongoing obsession with stories of the madness of ‘love’. Perhaps there are restrictions with the estate that prevent a more original revival, though regardless of this, there is still something about the production that, for all its mannerly affect and technical suave, feels somehow stuck in the past.”
London Theatre1: **** “These scenes are disturbing to watch but the problem is that Director Longhurst, and Mangan and Stirling, have to juggle this with what is supposed to be wildly hilarious flippant repartee. And this is where the actors earn their stripes, elevate both character and content and persevere.”
West End Best Friend: *** “Private Lives has many wonderful moments. With a simple, witty and often hilarious script and strong performances from such a small cast. It should be outstanding and yet leaves you feeling a little uncomfortable. Maybe that’s the point; you’ll have to go and see for yourself.”
Culture Whisper: *** “It’s a treat to hear Coward’s deliciously romantic lines (‘there isn’t a particle of you that I don’t know, remember, and want’) spoken on stage and a powerful shock to hear some of the play’s more derogatory remarks (‘certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs’) that used to play for laughs. While Longhurst’s production isn’t trailblazing, it’s a reminder how far our views on gender equality have come in the last century.”
Private Lives continues to play at the Donmar Warehouse until the 27th May 2023.