Theatre review: Private Lives, Q Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Sam Snedden (left), Sophie Henderson, Matt Whelan and Mia Blake deftly evoke the tensions between hedonistic excess and pompous propriety. Photo / Supplied
Sam Snedden (left), Sophie Henderson, Matt Whelan and Mia Blake deftly evoke the tensions between hedonistic excess and pompous propriety. Photo / Supplied

Director Shane Bosher has created an emphatically contemporary interpretation of Private Lives, designed to introduce a new generation of theatre-goers to Noel Coward's scintillating wit and exquisite sense of structure.

The updating may have diminished the musicality of Coward's language but the local references raise plenty of laughs and an edgy post-modern pastiche is achieved by having delightfully old-fashioned words like "shilly-shallying" and "slatternly" floating about in a world filled with iPads and trance dancing.

The modernisation is carried off with aplomb but the production somehow seems out of tune with the current mood of austerity - it struck me as ironic that such an unabashed celebration of the idle rich behaving badly should open on the same day President Obama issued a clarion call for a new era of responsible citizenship.

Similar feelings might have arisen when the play premiered a few months after the 1929 Wall Street crash and the programme notes include a quotation from Coward suggesting that merriment, finesse and glamour offer the perfect antidote to "the grim patina of these dire times".

Certainly anyone looking for a sophisticated brand of escapist entertainment will not be disappointed by this enchanting and wickedly funny show.

Rachel Walker's sculptural set design cleverly delineates the intricate geography of the drama while presenting a sumptuous backdrop for the sizzling performances.

In the plum roles of Elyot and Amanda, Matt Whelan and Mia Blake establish a volatile chemistry with sophisticated wordplay spreading a fragile veneer over the explosive passion of their obsessive love-hate relationship.

Blake exudes a dangerously alluring sexuality and displays a talent for physical comedy as she endows every gesture with an elegantly ironic poise.

Whelan switches effortlessly between sardonic deadpan, venomous hostility and comically deranged hysteria.

Sophie Henderson and Sam Snedden manage to elicit some sympathy even though their main function is to display a pompous sense of propriety that contrasts with the flamboyant hedonism of Elyot and Amanda.

Theatre review

What: Private Lives
Where: Q Theatre until September 29.

- NZ Herald

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