THEATRE Private Lives, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

At last, a Noel Coward production that does its author proud. David Benedict toasts the Mike Alfreds Cocktail - a perfect mix of wit, passion and heartbreak

Drape yourself winningly across the furniture, face front and speak frightfully fast in a very, very brittle voice. Good clothes and good teeth (diction, darling) are all that's needed for Noel Coward. It's like Play School. The entire evening should be seen through the arched window. No. As this magnificent production proves, there's a great deal more to it than that.

In a comedy as good as Private Lives, you expect to laugh, and one of the immediate strengths on display is that you do, which on the basis of all recent Coward is a ridiculously rare experience. The great surprise and delight of Method and Madness's revival is the depth of passion on display.

You search in vain for a high concept. Director Mike Alfreds wisely sticks to the play's original period and milieu, knowing perfectly well that everything about the behaviour of these people is rooted in the 1930s smart set. When elegant divorcees Elyot and Amanda accidentally meet on adjacent hotel balconies on the first night of their honeymoons to new partners, they are, after all, engaged in the ritual of dressing for dinner and the serious business of sipping cocktails.

Yet dangerous emotions shimmer beneath this beautifully sustained surface. Alfreds keeps the stakes extremely high. From the second the two ex-lovers meet, they pull rank on each other, determined to disguise the passions threatening to engulf them. This builds to such a pitch that when the impossibly tall, soigne Simon Robson doubles up in agony over the balustrade declaring "Darling, I love you so ... I've never loved anyone else for an instant", the effect is shockingly moving. What's more, this full-blown passion is kindled by violence. Robson and Abigail Thaw's marvellously assured Amanda may drip the ease, confidence and languor produced by wealth, but sexual tension smoulders and erupts between them. At the top of Act 2, when the suggestion arises that maybe they should go out, everything about the way they sprawl across the seemingly endless sofa, tells you that they have spent three days doing nothing but have rampant sex in every conceivable part of Paul Dart's riotously designed, lush Paris apartment.

Geraldine Alexander's maddeningly sweet Sibyl and Martin Marquez's stuffed- shirt Victor are pitched at the same dramatic level. Their violence is produced through repression. The resultant collisions are highly charged, to say the least.

The recent Design for Living patronised its audience by doing all their work for them, smugly pointing out the "shocking news" that, beneath all this "dated" wit, there was real drama. The cast were so busy playing "meaningful" subtext, the text disappeared. Alfreds's company manage truth and text with wit and grace. Not even this powerful production can quite sustain the energy through the slightly tepid final act, but who cares? Not only do they dazzle and dare, they make it look blissfully easy.

In rep with 'Jude the Obsure' and 'Flesh and Blood' to 27 July. Booking: 0181-741 2311

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...