Private Lives at the Ambassadors Theatre. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Private Lives Reviews – Patricia Hodge & Nigel Havers, Ambassadors Theatre London

Reviews are coming in for the West End debut of Christopher Luscombe‘s new production of Noel Coward classic Private Lives.

The revival stars Nigel Havers (Downton Abbey, The Charmer) as Elyot and Patricia Hodge (Watch on the Rhine, Calendar Girls, Miranda) as Amanda, with Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson, The Crown, The Deep Blue Sea) as Victor and Natalie Walter (Pack of Lies, Jerusalem) as Sibyl.

This Theatre Royal Bath production marks the 50th Anniversary since Noel Coward’s death, and was a success last year on tour.

Private Lives is directed by Christopher Luscombe (The Madness of George III, Spamalot, Sweeney Todd), with Set & Costume Design by Simon Higlett, Lighting Design by Mark Jonathan, Sound Design by Jeremy Dunn, and the Composer is Nigel Hess.

Private Lives is now playing at the Ambassadors Theatre to 25 November 2023.

Check out reviews from thw Evening Standard, The Telegraph, The Times and more, with further reviews to be added.

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Private Lives reviews

The Evening Standard

"Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge on consummate form"

"Veiled in comedy, the play discusses religion, morality and mortality"

"Sometimes at the theatre all you want is to see a couple of consummate pros take a classic out for a spin. Here, Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers, both in their 70s, bring an autumnal tinge to Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy about a frivolous, stylish, waspish couple, who can’t live together or apart."

"Debonaire in a dinner jacket or a dressing gown, Havers can do this stuff in his sleep. Indeed, at times I thought he clicked into autopilot: but if ever an actor could coast on easy charm, he can."

"Hodge meanwhile is terrific, with a hooded gaze that could wither leylandii at 200 paces. She always seems absolutely alive and in the moment, even when Amanda is at her most superficial, and she makes the most familiar lines – “very flat, Norfolk” – sound fresh."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Telegraph

"Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge give Noel Coward a wintry poignancy"

"Christopher Luscombe's fizzing revival at the Ambassador's honours the play's subversive unconventionality"

"Having septuagenarians Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge inhabit those characters means that certain lines land differently, like Elyot telling Amanda hopefully “We’re older and wiser now”. Havers’s Elyot gets a leg cramp after an aborted tryst, while Coward’s musings on mortality feel especially pertinent. That adds a wintry poignancy to this tale of second chances, without changing a line."

"Havers probably emerged from the womb sporting a Coward-esque silk dressing gown, and he’s clearly having a ball with the petulant yet maddeningly charming Elyot – particularly his fondness for flamboyant melodrama. But the standout is the marvellously queenly Hodge, who wields her crisp diction like a scalpel, slicing out every morsel of Amanda’s scathing putdowns."

"That you do actually root for this pair, even in their chaos and casual cruelty, proves that Luscombe’s seemingly sweet production has honoured Coward’s blisteringly subversive unconventionality."

Marianka Swain, The Telegraph
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The Sunday Times

"A retro treat with Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers"

"... Private Lives promises an evening of unparalleled comic sophistication. Just the pairing of Patricia Hodge with Nigel Havers is enough to trigger anticipation that Christopher Luscombe’s take on Noël Coward’s deathless 1930 comedy will be a delicious retro treat"

"Havers and Hodge know where to find the comedy in Coward’s clipped, elegant lines, slippery as their satin loungewear."

"That Havers and Hodge are older than standard for these roles darkens the comedy further. They must have spent decades poking at the line between love and hate."

Victoria Segal, The Sunday Times
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The Times

"Havers and Hodge have mature chemistry"

"Nothing remotely as radical is on offer in Christopher Luscombe’s production, which trundles rather than glides towards its tempestuous conclusion as the ex-spouses Elyot and Amanda bicker, flirt and fight. The best of the repartee still sparkles, but I’ll admit that I spent much of the evening admiring the designer Simon Higlett’s Deauville hotel façade and the luscious, semicircular evocation of Amanda’s Paris apartment."

"Havers and Hodge are in their seventies. so neither would be mistaken for bright young things, but the chemistry between these two old friends keeps the dialogue aloft."

Clive Davis, The Times
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Daily Mail

"A reasonable recital "

"Havers, though, seems thrilled to be back in the West End, and lends Coward's barbed wit a panto quality. Never less than jaunty, he deploys shifty eyes and a smirk to create a faintly creepy Elyot. Hodge's Amanda, meanwhile, glitters with charm. Her crystal blue eyes are alternately wide and playful or narrow with suspicion as she goes from smiling mischief to snorting displeasure."

"So yes, it's a slick enough recital, but it never quite blows off all the period dust."

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The Stage

"Solid and safe"

"Patricia Hodge carries this polished, traditional production of Coward’s bittersweet romcom"

"While Michael Longhurst’s staging for the Donmar dialled up the violence at the expense of the laughs, Christopher Luscombe’s polished take, first seen two years ago at Theatre Royal Bath, is a more traditional affair. It is bolstered by Patricia Hodge as a fierce, deadpan Amanda opposite Nigel Havers’ chipper, manic Elyot."

"In part a tribute to Coward himself, Luscombe’s production features segments from six songs written by the playwright ahead of the play’s 1930 premiere. Havers largely hums these numbers, or accompanies on piano while Hodge trills sweetly on the high notes. They take up too much space, though, and add very little."

"Overall, this is solid and safe as revivals go, but it is another welcome chance to hear Coward’s delicious musings on love, and Hodge keeps us rapt throughout."

Holly O'Mahony, The Stage
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"Patricia Hodge and Nigel Havers star in this breezily enjoyable production of Coward’s timeless comedy"

"Pour yourself a cocktail, darling, and get ready for an almost totally unchallenging revival of Noël Coward’s most pristine comedy. But Christopher Luscombe’s production of ‘Private Lives’ – which had its first outing at the Theatre Royal Bath in 2021 – is as pleasurable as it is safe."

"If there’s one stroke of real originality here, then it is the older ages of the two leads. Both Havers and Hodge are in their seventies, but both still look supple as they flail about the stage, bickering, flirting and roaring at each other with real glee. The duo have their roles down to a tee"

"Luscombe’s production, though, never quite digs into the fury hidden within Coward’s humour, and instead the couple’s physical confrontation at the end of act two is met with sniggers rather than shock from the audience. But if it’s a pleasant, giggle-fueled evening at the theatre you’re after, then Havers and Hodge have got you covered."

Anya Ryan, TimeOut
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Daily Express

"Civilised farce has creaky charm"

"There are few more comforting things for theatregoers than watching two seasoned actors inhabiting roles that might have been written for them. And thus it is with the eternally alluring Patricia Hodge and the affably urbane Nigel Havers in Noël Coward's comedy of former passion reignited, Private Lives."

"Christopher Luscombe's unobtrusive direction allows breathing space for the actors (also including Natalie Walter's gleefully naive Sibyl and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart's stuffed shirt Victor) to deliver Coward's pithy dialogue with cavalier grace."

"Havers and Hodge may not be in the first flush of youth, but the inclusion of cricked necks and dodgy knees, plus Coward's mischievous lines, give them ample opportunity for self-reflective humour."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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📷 Main photo: Private Lives at the Ambassadors Theatre. Photo by Tristram Kenton

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