Private Lives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am


Private Lives

Of all Noel Coward's 'well made plays', known for their sparkling dialogue and lightness of tone, Private Lives arguably has the most going on beneath its surface.

'Noel Coward was accused sometimes of being a superficial writer,' says Adam Harris, director of Stylus Productions, which is staging a four-day run of the play, starting on Wednesday, at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

'His plays are held up as just being vehicles for his wit, and I would refute that for Private Lives. I think it's very insightful about human relationships. It's billed as high comedy, but there's a lot of poignancy to it too,' Harris says.

The play, first performed in 1930, is about a divorced couple who meet unexpectedly while on honeymoon with their new spouses, and find their old passion is still burning. Having decided they can't live apart, however, they swiftly rediscover they can't live together.

There are relationships like that in real life - some of them between actors who have played the two leads, Elyot and Amanda. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in a 1983 Broadway production, seven years after their second divorce, and the parallels between the play and their private lives helped make the show a box office hit.

Harris and his ex-wife, Nicole West Garbellini, who plays Amanda, also have shared experiences which Harris believes will lend extra substance to their interpretation. 'Theatre serves as a reflection of life, and that mirror is particularly well polished on this occasion.'

Harris has directed the play before, and wants to build on his experience while remaining faithful to Coward's original text. 'It has a strong Asian flavour. It's not set here, but it was written while Noel Coward was in Shanghai, and he typed up his final manuscript while staying at The Peninsula. I wanted the casting to reflect that, and I've cast a Hong Kong girl [Shirley Sheung] in the part of the new wife.

'One or two lines - just literally one or two - have been slightly adapted,' he adds.

It is perhaps just as well that no radical revisions have been made to the text. Coward cast Gertrude Lawrence as the first Amanda, and responded to her observation that there was 'nothing wrong with it that can't be fixed' by saying the only thing that was going to be fixed was her performance.

Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sat, 3pm, McAulay Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Arts Centre, HK$200. Inquiries: 9127 0420