Noel Coward’s Private Lives
Until August 3
The Mill at Sonning
0118 969 8000
FRENCH accordion music outside a cafe before the action starts? ‘Allo, ’allo, what’s all this then?
It’s The Mill at Sonning’s sublime summer show, a new take on Noel Coward’s classic play Private Lives: a tale of a fallen Madonna, a frateux in a chateau and an appalling musical record.
At turns a farce, a drama and a complex investigation into the human psyche, it is an emotionally challenging evening that happens to have a lot of laughter too.
Set in the roaring twenties, it tells the tale of a divorced couple who bump into each other while honeymooning with their new spouses.
Rather than let the path of new love run smoothly, they elope together, only to prove the old adage true: can’t live without, can’t live with.
And then when the newly estranged partners turn up, the hard drama paves way to a sublime and quick-witted farce.
Director Tam Williams has really worked hard to ensure each of the three disparate acts work.
The first opens in the hotel where we meet Elyot Chase (Darrell Brockis) and his new bride Sibyl (Lydea Perkins).
While Sibyl appears to be madly in love and chasing shadows, Elyot is shifty and shady and clearly not.
Likewise, Amanda Prynne (Eva-Jane Willis) is not all that enamoured with her new love, Victor (Tom Berkeley).
All four cast members convincing convey the state of their relationships in these opening moments, making the eloping all the more convincing.
The second act is an actor’s dream: essentially a two-hander between Elyot and Amanda, holed up in her Parisian flat.
It all seems idyllic but the bliss cannot last as the cat and dog end up fighting. A lot. Arguments follow a session of kissing and making up … repeat on a loop.
In the hands of lesser actors, this would be wearisome to watch but Brockis and Willis work hard at the interplay to make the relationship convincing, even if the arguing feels like a broken record at times.
It is the ugly side of their characters that Sibyl and Victor see when they walk in, paving the way for the farical third act, which also sees accordionist Celia Cruwys-Finnigan take on the role of the flat’s housekeeper, a small, but crucial role to make the show believable.
As the play hurtles at breakneck speed to its denouement, tempers fray, love blossoms and the hardset patterns look set to continue.
Being a Coward script, it is a very strong one. The direction is tight, with the actors all knowing their marks – essential for ensuring the choreography of the drama, love affairs and fights is spot on.
With wit and verve, The Mill has another palpable hit on its hands.
This is one bit of privacy that deserves a decent exposure.