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Mr Monkey sees Private Lives at the Royal Exchange Theatre, 28th February

Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Private Lives Amanda (Imogen Stubbs) is alarmed (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey looking at a set design displayed in the Education Lounge coffee table Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of Noël Coward's Private Lives at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

As usual, Mr Monkey had to look at the posters around the theatre to check that he'd come on the right night. Then he picked up his humans' tickets, and went to the Education Lounge for a quick look at the coffee table. This time it was displaying the set for the first act.

The plot of Private Lives is fairly simple. Five years before the beginning of the first act Elyot and Amanda went through an acrimonious divorce. Immediately before the first act they both marry again, both to partners who are fascinated by the horrid details of the earlier marriage. During the first act Elyot and Amanda realise they are honeymooning in adjacent rooms and that they prefer each other to the people they've just married, with hilarious consequences. These include, in the second and third acts, a surprising amount of domestic violence.

Elyot (Simon Robson), Amanda (Imogen Stubbs), a piano and a compromising position (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) Mr Monkey thought the first act sparkled as the weaknesses in the new marriages are revealed, and the scenery, lighting and sound transported him to Deauville on a summer night in the late Twenties. He felt parts of the second act were a little slow, probably because Coward was showing how bleak Amada and Elyot's relationship really is. Throughout the third act Mr Monkey had the suspicion that Coward didn't quite know how he was going to end the play.

Kate Waters' fight direction sensibly handles the supposed humour of domestic violence by making it into a sort of cartoon and is greatly helped by the apparently inate bounciness of Imogen Stubbs.

Imogen Stubbs dominates the play with her excellent timing and physical reactions. She's especially good in the fighting in the second and third acts. Simon Robson is terribly, terribly Coward-like as Elyot, lounging around smoking (there's a lot of smoking in Private Lives) and being flippant.

Clive Hayward (Victor) and Joanna Page (Sybil) do well as the other halves in the foursome, though Noël Coward obviously only put them in the play because he couldn't really have Elyot and Amanda without their new spouses.

The set design is as good as ever, particularly in the strategic use of cushions etc as padding during the fight scenes.

Despite his qualms about the second half, Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed this production of Private Lives.

After seeing the play, Mr Monkey scurried up into the Mezzanine Gallery to see A Beautiful Moment.

Private Lives runs until April 9th 2011.

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