first night

Private Lives

Kate Barton enjoys CTC's latest offering 'Private Lives'


Noel Coward is a classic comedy choice for any student drama. It has wit, it’s slapstick, and more importantly, it remains a comedic hit to a modern day audience.  Castle Theatre Company’s ‘Private Lives’ achieved just this and should be applauded for its comedic triumph.


That said, and as a first night review, it is normally expected that a show suffers from first night weaknesses, but then eventually goes from strength to strength to conclude with a fantastic finale. However, in the case of ‘Private Lives,’ I was watching the first and last performance. This is a great shame for all the cast and crew involved that now do not have the opportunity to iron out any first night hitches for later shows. With more performances, this show could have achieved brilliant heights.


The choice of setting a performance in Castle Great Hall is a brave one; due to poor sightlines, difficult acoustics and the necessity for a minimal set. That said director Lousia Mathieu made ingenious use of the space, utilising the two grand, wooden doors at the back of the stage as the hotel room entrances. This worked magnificently and allowed for quick transitions that were necessary for the switches between the two balconies. The pieces of the white balcony draped in ivy were a lovely aesthetic touch, aided by the ivy draped from the ceiling, which transformed the cavernous Great Hall into a more interesting and intimate space. Furthermore, the music that played as the audience entered and in-between the acts was a lovely touch. Immediately the audience were introduced to the period and encouraged to socialise at the bar in their black tie. 


Unfortunately due to the lack of elevated staging, sightlines suffered throughout, with many of the audience being unable to see anything when characters sat or lay down. It was at these moments where lighting could have been made to greater effect, as often these moments were in total shadow. Further to this, the balcony above the Great Hall where many students work was unfortunately not blocked off, meaning at times audience members where distracted when a student peered down from the balcony above to nosy at the production.


The feuding lovers, Amanda (Soraya Rahall) and Elyot (Ben Cushion), were a delight to watch throughout the performance. Soraya Rahall gave a captivating and believable performance of Amanda, balancing her icy wit and fiery nature in equal measure. Rahall commanded a strong stage presence and status, and had superb diction for the difficult space. Similarly, Ben Cushion gave a stunning performance as Elyot and brought a great deal of sarcasm as well as physical comedy. Mathieu’s direction of the pair was seamless, especially during the lengthy arguments and the more tender moments. The chemistry between Rahall and Cushion was striking and was well sustained throughout the two acts.


Although an apparent sufferer from first night nerves, Wesley Milligan as Victor recovered well after a moment of line loss. Although a little wooden at first, Milligan was much improved in the second act.  Notable also was the maid Louise, played by Lucy Watkiss, who delivered a sterling effort with her French lines. Perhaps with a more confident delivery and a little practice, a more authentic accent could be produced. 


The stand out performance of the night has to come from the unforgettable Izzie Price with her portrayal of the neurotic Sybil. Price delivered the most consistent performance and was able to draw out genuine gasps of laughter from the audience. Price’s hysterical outbursts that became increasingly feverish and shrill were a definite highlight of the evening.


Private Lives seemed like a budding flower; with given a little more attention to detail and time from the first run, it could no doubt grow into something fantastic. It is a shame that it was for one night only, which begs the question I’m sure tonight’s audience wants answering…


“Summer rerun?”



2 March 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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