private lives at Sonning

8 Jul

‘Don’t Quibble Sibyl’ is my favourite line from Coward’s most famous play ‘Private Lives’ currently playing at the Mill at Sonning, probably the most delightful theatre setting in the world. It is a great adventure to go there — just a ten quid taxi from Reading Station to the old Picturesque Water Mill. Here in an atmospheric wood-beamed hall, you get an exceptional lunch or dinner and then go to the theatre for a play – the whole experience for fifty-one pounds. That is about what the meal alone would cost in the West End. The play itself is so well known to most of the audience, but I was a bit worried about the length of the first part, which consists of both Acts one and two. For some reason, three-act plays are out of fashion. I would have thought that another break after the hilarious Act One would be good for bar sales. The second part is a dissection of the Elyot/Amanda relationship, and I have to admit I find it a little repetitive and I did see a couple of the audience inspecting their watches. The physical fight scene is the one everybody is waiting for, and I think we could get there a little sooner with a few judicial cuts (If the Coward estate would allow it) However, the play still has its magic. The characters are all charming and narcissistic and the silly second wife and the boring second husband are irritating, well drawn and sadly familiar – we all have some of them in our lives. The star couple Elyot and Amanda deserve each other. The dialogue is always witty, and director Tam Williams has not held back on the fisticuffs between them. Amanda and Elyot are intelligent and entertaining people. Hell to live with but Divine at Dinner Parties. All the actors are ridiculously beautiful and well dressed by Natalie Titchener, in period style and the setting is a magnificent feat by Michael Hold. Lydea Perkins is comical as the girlie Sibyl and so is the unbearably pompous Victor Prynne as played by Tom Berkeley. Darrel Brooks is acerbic and a true Coward Anti hero with Eva Jane Willis as the glamorous Amanda. Her reaction at seeing her ex on the balcony when she almost falls off the stage is a vision that sticks in the mind – the two of them are perfectly paired.The big surprise is Celia Cruwys-finnegan who not only plays Louise the maid but entertains us before the show and during the scene change by singing and playing her piano accordion. I have a small quibble with this. Although it is delightful having memories of Piaf in La Vie En Rose, I would have been happier if the period of much of the material had been adhered to more rigidly. However, despite quibbles one might have, the total experience at the Mill is enchantment from beginning to end Sylvan beauty all around us, the sound of swirling water under the bridge with outdoor space to enjoy the sounds and sight and in the bar, the old Mill continues to keep on turning. All this and Noel Coward. For just a few hours, we are allowed to live in the past. One must acknowledge the producer and artistic director Sally Hughes who is so welcoming and her smiling staff who are all perfect at their jobs, making us feel relaxed and happy. More happiness to come this year Agatha Christie’s ‘Towards Zero’, Ray Cooney’s ‘Run for your Wife’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ How can we keep away?

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