Private Lives | Balloon Head TheatreThis debut production by Balloon Head Theatre of Noel Coward's classic romantic comedy was also my first experience of the play, and although I know that it is produced regularly to mostly glowing reviews, and although I am a sucker for a good romcom, I can't say I'm a fan of the play. I honestly don't know what all the fuss is about.

For the uninitiated, Elyot and Amanda used to be married. Then they divorced. Elyot recently married Sybil, and Amanda recently married Victor. By coincidence, Elyot and Sybil have booked their honeymoon hotel room right next door to Amanda and Victor's honeymoon hotel room. You're either the kind of person who reacts with “Ha! How funny is that?”, or the kind of person who thinks, “You've got to be kidding me.”

Elyot and Amanda discover that they are neighbours and decide, due to their acrimonious past, that they all must leave. They do not tell their new partners who is staying next door, just rather insist that they must leave. The newly-weds quarrel over this, with Sybil and Victor refusing to leave, and storming out for the evening. Elyot and Amanda reluctantly share drinks and conversation on Eliot's balcony. They reminisce and in the blink of an eye decide they are in love again, so much so that they have to elope at once without telling their new spouses what is going on. (Again... seriously?). Back in Amanda's Paris apartment, Elyot and Amanda hole up, booze up and talk incessantly about how much they love each other. Soon, however, they suddenly hate each other again. Sybil and Victor turn up, more shouting and bickering and insults and the play ends.

I once read that using coincidence as a device in story-telling was a pretty bad idea, so I admit that I was off to a bad start here with the coincidence of these former spouses ending up in neighbouring hotel rooms. I also questioned Sybil and Victor's obsessions with their new spouse's former spouses on their honeymoon – wouldn't this kind of talk have happened in the early stages of their relationships? Would they really happen on the first night of their honeymoon?

Thing is, the dialogue is pretty good and I found myself lightening up. WTF. Just a romcom. Lots of witty banter in this act and some pretty decent acting too, particularly from the driving forces of the play; Oscar Shaw as Elyot did Aloof Upper-Class-Twat really well, and Seren Oroszvary did Volatile Upper-Class I-Love-You-I-Hate-You-Psycho really well. The characters of Sybil (Rachel Shrives) and Victor (Ben Symon) appeared to be written as lighter characters and the roles were played accordingly, perhaps self-consciously going for the comic relief angle. This was most obvious in the second act when the mood was less fluffy than in the first act.

The second act seemed a little long and not as pacey as the first. This was because this was the serious part of the story, where shit was going to go down. The spirit of Elyot and Amanda being cocooned from the world in a drunken delirium of love was beautifully done, then a little over-done. The comedy to drama ratio was kept up even though a tapering of the humour to let the serious stuff bubble through might have worked better (if I had been Noel Coward's dramaturg... oops... back to reviewing).

By the time Sybil and Victor arrived at the apartment, I had long stopped wondering how this was all going to pan out, because I didn't care for any of these characters. I really didn't care how it ended. If we liked at least one of the characters and wanted things to go their way there would have been some tension. But as it was, meh, I don't care if she ends up with him or he ends up with him or if they all kill each other with rusty spoons.

In saying how much I'm not a fan of the text (did you pick up on that at all?), I did think this was a pretty good debut production. Lots of friends and family in the audience on opening night and so naturally some of the laughs came from said family and friends seeing a family member or friend doing funny things on stage. But not all; many of the laughs were a result of some very good comic acting.

Set design was minimally evocative, which is all you need. Sound was a slight problem in the second act when the hotel walls were pushed back on the stage and the balconies became the apartments walls and music was played loud.

The French housemaid Louise (Camilla Eustance) was funny without doing much, as was the Kate Bush piece, which I suspect probably wasn't in the original text. Both these segments were absolutely enjoyable but didn't seem move the story forward in any way.

If you're a fan of this Noel Coward guy, I suspect you'll probably enjoy Balloon Head Theatre's production of it. Looking forward to seeing to what Balloon Head does next.


Balloon Head Theatre presents
Private Lives
by Noel Coward

Venue: Guild Theatre, level 1, Union House, Melbourne University
Dates: 20 – 22 April, 2016
Tickets: $20 – $15
Bookings: www.trybooking.com/KYLD