Private Lives Reviews at the Donmar Warehouse

A reviews round-up Noel Coward’s Private Lives at the Donmar Warehouse starring Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling.

The Donmar Warehouse’s outgoing artistic director Michael Longhurst directs a new revival of Noel Coward’s classic comedy of manners, or maybe bad manners, as divorced couple Elyot and Amanda rekindle their love – with explosive results!

The cast includes Stephen Mangan (Episodes) as Elyot in Coward’s classic comedy, with Rachael Stirling (Tipping the Velvet) as Amanda, Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) as Sibyl and Sargon Yelda (The Band’s Visit) as Victor.

Joining Longhurst in the creative team is Designer Hildegard Bechtler, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Movement Director Chi-San Howard, Fight Director Kate Waters and Casting Director Anna Cooper CDG.

Private Lives is playing at the Donmar Warehouse from 7 April to 27 May 2023.

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Private Lives reviews

The Times

"Low on laughs, a Noël Coward for a different age"

"The best productions of Noël Coward’s much-revived 1930 comedy lace their bantering laughs with bile and bruises. This one... puts its pain more firmly centre stage than usual. The results are mixed, and lower on laughs than you expect. And yet it’s an interesting evening."

"You can certainly see, after two hours watching this hyperverbal pair attract and repel one another, how much more blatantly abrasive later writers such as Harold Pinter or Edward Albee owed to Coward."

"Coward’s recoupling couple usually disdain seriousness, turn frivolity into an art form. Here, the quips remain but there is a pensiveness and edginess in the air as they attempt to make this outsized pair real. To not trivialise, I suppose, domestic violence."

"Stirling is luminous throughout, and, as Mangan’s wavy hair starts popping out of its smoothed-down side parting, he finds a more bittersweet tone that suits him too."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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The Telegraph

"Noël Coward’s genteel comedy is given a savage new edge"

"Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling lead a revival that features not the usual harmless lovers' ding-dong but distressing domestic violence"

"The climactic Act II set-to between the pair... escalates into a distressing sequence of domestic violence that leaves you staggering to the interval feeling pummelled."

"He can, of course, point to Coward’s cues and textual clues as rationale. But it’s as if he’s shattering any accrued complacency about what’s at stake. Stirling’s Amanda flinches and cowers, tremblingly vowing to leave Elyot – and we glimpse a traumatic cycle of devotion, dependence and danger."

"For some, this emphasis will overturn the evergreen comedy’s entertainment value to the point of travesty. But it’s a valid provocation – mirth isn’t banished, it just now has more edge."

"Stirling gives us a beguiling force of nature whose self-possession isn’t enough to see off the restrictive expectations of her age. Mangan roguishly charms and drolly delights..."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Guardian

"Coward’s comedy becomes a stark theatre of cruelty"

"Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling bare their teeth in a show that dials up the violence and sometimes struggles to navigate the humour"

"Love is a tempestuous, abusive affair in Michael Longhurst’s sleek staging of Noël Coward’s intimate tragicomedy. In a production that grows in confidence as the night goes on, the highs and lows of an addictive, damaging relationship are shown through impromptu charleston dances and furiously smashed glasses. Here, love is savage and inescapable."

"... the first act feels performed almost by rote. As it warms up, though, this production makes their fights ferociously physical."

"This is an admirable interpretation of a complex relationship, but one that still feels a little uneasy with itself."

Kate Wyver, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard

"Despite Mangan and Stirling this largely joyless revival fails to spark"

"This show was clearly planned as a crowd-pleaser, a reappraisal of a classic and a star vehicle, but it doesn’t fully satisfy on any of those counts"

"The pairing of Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling in Noel Coward’s iconic 1930 battle-of-the-sexes comedy promised sparks, but it’s a largely joyless affair that only occasionally ignites."

"Stirling, it’s true, manifests a revelatory mix of alabaster poise and gamey sexuality... But an uncomfortable Mangan relies on his innate timing, and – with his unruly hair initially pasted down – looks disturbingly like Prince Andrew."

"Behind the dressing gowns, cigarettes and entitlement, Coward derides monogamy, marriage, religion and – above all – seriousness. He is always ripe for reappraisal, and some of his attitudes require rigorous interrogation, but here, the whole thing never adds up... This show was clearly planned as a crowd-pleaser, a reappraisal of a classic and a star vehicle, but it doesn’t fully satisfy on any of those counts."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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i News

"Dark, uptight Coward revival isn’t as revelatory as it thinks"

"Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan play the sparring ex-lovers in a production that emphasises domestic violence"

"Gosh, darling: the Donmar has done something dreadfully beastly to one of Noel Coward’s most classic plays. Private Lives is now nearly a century old, and Michael Longhurst’s revival – marking 50 years since the playwright’s death – seems to regard it as a museum piece from the start... the production’s preoccupation with how the play might now be considered problematic makes for a strange, unsatisfying evening."

"Here, humour is largely out in favour of darkness. Longhurst takes Coward’s comic play about dysfunctional people and brings the lurking theme of domestic violence to the fore..."

"As Amanda, Stirling floats through the script with an arch, witty disdain, but Mangan’s Elyot is like a grouchy Maxim de Winter, often appearing to be suppressing his own comic instincts."

Jessie Thompson, i News
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"Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan star in a darkly original take on the Noël Coward classic"

"With its gags about domestic abuse and depiction of a relationship so toxic it could poison the nation’s water supply, Noël Coward’s West End staple ‘Private Lives’ has been notable by its absence from our stages in the #MeToo era. Now outgoing Donmar boss Michael Longhurst is the one to finally grasp the nettle, with fascinating but slightly inconsistent results."

"Longhurst’s production isn’t revisionist. But it strips away the protective barrier of everything being one big joke; it injects naturalism to this most stylised of comedies, and in doing so makes it much bleaker."

"Longhurst and his cast simply embrace it as realism and don’t laugh it off. It’s still a funny show. But when the laughs stop, they stop: Amanda and Elyot viciously turn on each other at a second’s notice, with the sort of unselfconscious rage that abusers hide from the outside world."

"Stirling and Mangan deliver: I didn’t mind a lower laugh rate for the sake of a bit of psychological acuity."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Stage

"Stephen Mangan and Rachael Stirling are brilliantly bitchy"

"Sharp-edged revival brings out the cruelty in Noël Coward’s classic comedy"

"There’s glamour, but here, it’s the surface sheen on lives that seem brittle and empty, marred by dissatisfaction, boredom and casual cruelty. The violence, both physical and emotional, is real..."

"Stephen Mangan’s Elyot and Rachael Stirling’s Amanda are a brilliantly bitchy pair of divorcees who are as diverting to watch as they are easy to dislike."

"It doesn’t offer the smooth entertainment many Coward fans will crave, but it’s the snags in the silk that give this production its texture. This is comedy that shows its sharp teeth every time it smiles."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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Daily Mail

"... Michael Longhurst's horribly unfunny revival, which scrapes away the brittle artifice of the writing and reveals the ugly truth of domestic abuse."

"Coward's quicksilver genius holds flippancy and seriousness in perfect balance. In this heavy-handed production, a champagne comedy falls flat."

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The Observer

"Noel Coward’s classic has fine cigarette work but fails to ignite"

"... though Michael Longhurst’s production has sparks and intelligence, it misses the penetration of Coward’s wit: it is too deliberate."

"Unexpectedly, the trouble starts with the design by the mighty Hildegard Bechtler... The set ingeniously makes an audience put the questions – but you have to work at it, which goes against the grain of a drama in which everything, however toxic, should slip down."

"Then there is Stephen Mangan, an actor of real ease but here I think misdirected, who begins over-determined to reverse expectations, playing the svelte and lethal Elyot as if he were a thug disguising his inner drawl. He is much stronger – and more elegant – in the second half, but he has lost the capacity to surprise."

"Two things are spot on. First is Rachael Stirling, an actor who is growing all the time in silky subtlety."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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📷 Main photo: Private Lives at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo by Marc Brenner

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