PRIVATE LIVES Avenue, Ipswich



      Exuberantly funny,  elegant as a Deauville  hotel balcony and  sharp as the crack of a 78rpm record over a lover’s head,  Joanna Carrick’s witty miniaturized production  does Noel Coward’s sparkiest comedy full justice.  I say miniature – it’s full length –  only because of the venue:   the tiny but vigorous  home of Red Rose Chain.     An outfit which on the face of it should be far too ‘woke’ for Coward,  being a non-profit but professional theatre company, deep in community projects with young people and care homes (the group working with dementia sufferers put on their five-minute workshop piece after the show on gala night, which is definitely a first for Private Lives).  


       But the intimacy, and the cheeky sense of inclusivity which always marks  RRC shows, actually serve dear Noel very well indeed.    I suspect he would rather like the moments when Fiz Waller’s nonchalantly irresponsible Amanda – trying to make light conversation with her fellow-runaway or the other furious couple –  decides to direct  her remarks on the scenery intimately to the front row. Or when Ryan Penny’s furiously virtuous Victor makes them hold his coat while he executes a fist-jabbing haka at the languid Elyot, who stole his wife from their honeymoon balcony.  Setting it in the round, with the balconies separated by a diagonal parterre of flowers, brings us dangerously into the action.


       The young cast make the well-worn famous roles their own.   Waller’s Amanda, elegant though she is in pale satin, negligée or daring beach-suit,  is not the slinky cooing seductress some have made her .  Rather she is very Gertrude Lawrence:   a comedienne who one should remember  crossed the Channel on a landing-craft with ENSA after D-Day to perform in shell-wrecked cinemas.    Her insouciant toughness rises to just the right heights in the combative second-act,   with a memorable close-up fight as the couple’s banter turns to fury.     Harriet Leitch as the aggrieved bride gives Sybil the precise,  prim, pleated-skirt virtue covering tyrannical wifely viciousness  which the world’s Cowards so dread.     Ricky Oakley is young, thus a more schoolboyish Elyot in appearance than usual,  but actually Elyot’s  best jokes (“Its a very old sofa”  and “strange noises”)  suit that interpretation well.     So it all holds together beautifully with this young cast;   the grace-notes and scene-shifts are typical of Carrick’s directorial wit,  not least  the deployment of Victor’s golf club in the first half , and Amanda’s final dive for a brioche at the end.  

        And from the volunteer cadre and the youth theatre, Rei Mordue’s cameo as Louise the maid doesn’t miss a trick:  proper French contempt in every move she makes.  I’d go again.  Some days, you can have a prosecco tea before the matinee. 


box office   01473 603388.   to 7 APril



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