Artifact: Private Lives
By: Noel Coward
Noel Coward’s play Private Lives is a witty and truly fun piece of literature. This comedy of manners takes place in two adjoining hotel rooms in Paris. It follows a divorced couple, Amanda and Elyot, who have been separated for 5 years and have each “moved on” to new, younger mates, Sybil and Victor. The new couples are here in the setting on their honeymoons and run into each other. Over the course of the day Amanda and Elyot begin to realize that they are in fact not over each other. And thus the course of the action begins. Private lives has been produced and made into movies on multiple occasions and all are note-worthy. The show has earned many awards and critical analysis since its opening tour through the British Provinces and opening show in 1930 at the Phoenix Theater in London.
Private Lives has won several awards for several different productions, as many great works of theater literature often do. The opening run of the show in which Noel Coward himself played the male lead of Elyot did not receive any major awards. In 1930, the year that the show opened, major awards such as the Tony’s and the Olivier’s had not yet been created so naturally the show did not receive any of those awards. But when the show made its Broadway debut in 1969 Tammy Grimes won Two Tony’s (one for best leading actress in a play and the drama desk award for outstanding actress) for her portrayal of the character Amanda. Sara Crow won an Olivier award for her portrayal of Sybil. The recent revival in London in 2001 won three of its seven Olivier nominations which included Lindsay Duncan as Amanda for best actress, set designs by Tim Hatley, and costumes by Jenny Beavan. The revival also won three of its five nominations at the Tony’s the same year. The awards included best revival, best actress, and best set design.
When the show made its first runs the reviews from the critics were all over the charts. Everywhere from:
“What an amazing play it is!” –Time Magazine
“Amusing, no doubt, yet hardly moving farther below the surface than a paper boat in a bathtub and, like the paper boat, ever in imminent danger of becoming a shapeless, sodden mass” – The Manchester Guardian
Though the reviews from the critics were all over the charts, the show continued to run its tour of the British Provinces and continued to be produced. When the text (script) was published, the reviews again were all over. Reviews like:
“Unreadable.” –The Times
“Inexpressibly tedious.” –The Times Literary Supplement
“The play reads astonishingly well… superb prose!” –T.E. Lawrence
Private Lives by Noel Coward has received many awards, reviews, praise, and criticism. But the real truth is this: Private lives is still being produced and shown in theaters all over. It is still being talked about in classrooms, theaters, and over coffee tables. I believe it is a show that will go down in history as one of the greatest British comedies. If it hasn’t already been recorded as one of the best comedies of the 20th century, then it certainly will be.