The comic masterpiece by Noel Coward The man
February 22nd-25th, 2012
McAulay Studio Theatre, Wanchai, Hong Kong Website
Adam Harris, Director and Elyot Chase and much much more
Noel Coward (1899-1971) wrote Private Lives What Wikipedia says over the course of just four days while recovering from illness at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
(Tenuous Hong Kong link) He typed up his final manuscript while staying at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon.
After a provincial tour the play had its London opening at the Phoenix Theatre on 24th September, 1930 with Coward himself as Elyot and Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda. Victor was played by a very young Laurence Olivier.
In this satire the affectations and polite manners of the upper crust in the 1930s are exposed, and ultimately shattered, by giving the audience an intimate glimpse of life behind closed doors. It shows that the human condition has no class boundaries so the horrors of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and the inevitable breakdown of a relationship is just as pathetic for the upper classes as it is for the participants of a Jeremy Kyle talk show. I am quite sure that the twists and turns of Elyot and Amanda's relationship have been used in every soap opera from Coronation Street to Dallas.
The farcical sequence of events the four main characters are subjected to are comedic, but just like a member of a Jeremy Kyle audience, squirmingly uncomfortable to witness. Snorting cocaine, face slapping, drink slinging and bottle breaking are there to shock and seduce.
The close proximity of the audience to the cast in the McAuley Studio creates an intimate feel. To witness a drama performance in this way makes the experience highly engaging. Watching Elyot and Amanda being intimate on their sofa, as if at home, almost made me want to avert my eyes. Were we eves-dropping, spying on them? Were we supposed to be there so involved in the sexual tension? Seeing them relaxing, guard down in night wear, a smidgen away from nakedness?
It was particularly enjoyable to see Adam Harris in his pyjamas and especially thrilling to see him with such a dapper, slicked-back, hair cut. He is captivating to watch and, when dressed, his costume was elegant and stylish. Surely the driving force in this production.
Who on earth dressed Amanda? The opening scene featured a very flimsy black full length petticoat which was badly made and ill-fitting. She left the scene to 'slip on a dress' and entered with an even worse cream shiny number, again flimsy, badly made and ill-fitting but this time the zip had broken. I know it is easy to get things made in Hong Kong - so why not get something substantial that fits? The awful dresses would probably not have been so noticeable if it hadn't been for the dreadful nylon wig which had a greeny, yellow tinge and in no way could have been mistaken for real hair - forget the wig go with your real hair!
The character of Sibyl was truly annoying. She was meant to be irritating, spoilt, immature and asian. She succeeded.
Private Lives produced and directed by the irrepressible and dapper Adam Harris, the George Clooney of Hong Kong, was an excellent and brave production. I highly recommend going to see future performances or productions where Adam is involved.
Coming soon Vincent, a one-man show about the artist Vincent van Gogh in May