What MADC does well, given its long-established tradition and experience as one of the oldest-running dramatic clubs on the island, is its ability to choose a good classic. And you absolutely cannot go wrong with Noel Coward.
This latest production of Private Lives at the Manoel Theatre was a thoroughly good night out.
Malcolm Galea’s direction kept things sharp and slick and, interestingly, he seems to have coached his cast, to a relatively credible standard, in that elusive 1930s theatre and film accent which sounds rather like a highly clipped version of heightened RP. Extra points for linguistic authenticity.
The first act, taking place on two adjoining balconies somewhere on the French Riveira, took off to a rather slow start at first but later began to pick up the pace, as newly married couple Sibyl and Elyot Chase, freshly on their honeymoon, have a discussion based on Sibyl’s rather obsessive interest in Elyot’s ex-wife; in which she keeps trying to coax out of him, whether she was any better than her.
Unbeknownst to them, Elyot’s ex-wife Amanda, now also newly married to Victor Prynne, is staying in the suite next door. She too is being quizzed by Victor about Elyot’s behaviour and their past relationship.
Thus begins this jazz age comedy of manners, with all its chic deco surface glamour, underscored by the real and very usual pettiness and delicious silliness of human nature – all of which Noel Coward, like a good, embedded critic of his age, knew how to control and convey to an audience.
The two younger characters – the naively over-confident and rather cloying Sibyl, played acutely by Kim Dalli, and the self-important and rather pompous Victor, portrayed humorously by Myron Ellul, counter-balanced their older spouses extremely well.
The comedic value which they added to the piece was based in part on their ability to feed off the excellent dynamic between Greta Agius’ Amanda and Edward Thorpe’s Elyot.
It was an absolute pleasure to see Agius return to the stage and the way in which she sparred with Thorpe as a divorced couple who drive each other wild with anger – which turns to passionate love – was brilliant in its highs and lows of comic timing.
The verbal back-and-forth of an incredibly witty script was sustained very well by both these actors. Agius and Thorpe really did turn the pace around in the second and third acts, when they leave their respective spouses and run off together to Paris, alternating their ardent amorous gesturers with fiery outbursts of irritation and anger at each other’s behaviour and stubbornness.
The physicality of the piece is aided no end by the on-stage fights and arguments that Amanda and Elyot have.
Both Agius and Thorpe were well-chosen for their parts and executed them very convincingly. Their acting style, no doubt thanks to Galea’s input, really did emulate that of a bygone era in the best of ways. Giulia Gatt, as the disgruntled French maid, Louise, delivered all of her lines in belligerent French and still managed to evoke laughter with her disdain at the situation her employers are in.
The final performance of Private Lives is showing at the Manoel Theatre this evening and is the very definition of a fun night out at the theatre.
It allows the audience to enjoy a show purely for its quality entertainment value and for its ability to allow tired, contemporary, tech-burdened patrons, to suspend their disbelief and let a brilliant period piece work its magical wit and humour.
Tickets for the final showing of Private Lives on March 26 are available at www.madc.com.mt/en/productions/productions/86/private-lives.htm