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Private Lives

I was excited to experience two ‘firsts’ tonight: watching the first ever production by Scaramouche Theatre Company and also my first time visiting Milford on Sea Community Centre Theatre.

Scaramouche Theatre Company is the brain child of Anne Ponting and Paul Stillwell. Anne directed Paul in Tale of Two Cities at The Regent Centre three years ago and, following on from that, they decided to form a Theatre Group with a view of performing a quality play every year… and this play oozes with quality.

From reading the ‘Message from the Director’ in the glossy show programme, it is evident that this show is a real labour of love for Director Anne Ponting and Paul Stillwell, who himself is credited no less than 10 times in the programme credits.

Noel Coward was known for his wit, flamboyance and a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise. He published more than 50 plays from the age of 20. His instinctive voice arose from his childhood. His mother was slightly deaf and he developed his staccato style to make it easier for her to hear what he was saying and also to eradicate a lisp. Private Lives is one of his many masterpieces set in Deauville, Normandy, France in 1930.

Of all of Noel Coward plays, Private Lives remains the most pristine, elegant example of his art. It is deceptively simple and arguably written at the peak of Noel Coward’s career and made him the highest paid author in the western world. Private Lives holds great personal memories for me too after playing Noel Coward in a production of Noel & Gertie some years ago, so I was keen to watch it.

Private Lives is a comedy in three acts. A divorced couple, Amanda & Elyot, are recently married again with new partners. Whilst both on their honeymoons with their new spouses, they discover they are staying in adjacent rooms at the same hotel.

In the play, Amanda & Elyot are an utterly modern pair and, although their dialogue appears superficial, there is a subtle difference between what they say and what they might really mean.

They live in a newly liberated world of indulgence, fantasy and decadence creating a self-styled modern, sleek and fashionable couple. They have all the toys of a new consumer era to hand: the telephone and telegram, which are the social media tools of their age.

The opening night was a sell out and the audience took their seats with anticipation. The house lights went down and Noel Coward’s most popular song ‘Some Day I’ll Find You’ filled the air, instantly transporting you back to 1930.

The stage lights came up and revealed the terrace of a hotel in France on a summer evening where the play begins. I must say that the use of the relatively small stage for the set and lighting is excellent and well designed.

The set and props used throughout the show, from the Hotel terrace to Amanda’s Paris flat, were perfect and of the era. Everything looked like it was meant to be there and were used by the actors.

Elyot is the consummate playboy, breaking from old Victorian values of hard work and played magnificently by Paul Stillwell. Elyot’s first wife, Amanda, is sophisticated, independent and is played brilliantly by Andrea Cutler.   The chemistry between the two is played so well and the transitions between the scenes played when they are expressing their love for each other, to the scenes where they are literally at each other’s throats are seamless and executed with skill.

Sibyl is played by Terri Spencer who portrays the attractive, vulnerable 23 year old very well. I was really impressed with her performance, which I must add was her first performance in a Drama and a leap from her other job as a fire eater and stilt walker! The crying scenes were particularly excellent!

Victor Prynne is played by the accomplished Danny DeLyons, who brings a class to the part and works really well with Terri.

I could go on forever highlighting the standard of acting in this production, but I would simply urge you to watch this show (if you can, as it is pretty much a sell out) or catch the company’s next production where I am sure they will all feature.

A show of this magnitude and stature requires excellent actors with the ability to learn a massive amount of dialogue and have comic timing… and this one does. The sharpness and speed of the dialogue is key delivering the story in the manner it was written and how Noel Coward wanted it played. This play does all of that.

A mention is also required for the cameo of theatre stalwart Alan Ponting, who plays Louis with the dry sense of humour that Noel Coward would have been proud of.

Whilst the cast receive the accolades on stage from the audience, praise needs to also go to the wonderful Direction. It is not easy to move 5 actors around a stage and utilise the space and props available, but it is done with brilliant fluidity.

Full praise also goes to the production team: Stephen Blatchley (Stage Management, Light and Sound) and the quite beautiful costumes provided by Anne Ponting and Eclectia of Highcliffe.

I cannot fault this production. From the staging to the acting, it is all excellent. I cannot wait for this exciting new company’s next production.

Private Lives continues at The Milford on Sea Community Centre until Sunday 31 March 2019. Tickets available from 01590 644861 or https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/milfordonseavcc