Private Lives  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Private Lives is a 1930 comedy of manners in three acts by Noël Coward. It focuses on a divorced couple who discover that they are honeymooning with their new spouses in neighbouring rooms at the same hotel. Despite a perpetually stormy relationship, they realise that they still have feelings for each other. Its second act love scene was nearly censored in Britain as too risqué. Coward wrote one of his most popular songs, "Some Day I'll Find You", for the play.

After touring the British provinces, the play opened the new Phoenix Theatre in London in 1930, starring Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Adrianne Allen and Laurence Olivier. A Broadway production followed in 1931, and the play has been revived at least a half dozen times each in the West End and on Broadway. The leading roles have attracted a wide range of actors; among those who have succeeded Coward as Elyot are Robert Stephens, Richard Burton, Alan Rickman and Matthew Macfadyen, and successors to Lawrence as Amanda have included Tallulah Bankhead, Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith and Kim Cattrall. Directors of new productions have included John Gielgud, Howard Davies and Richard Eyre. The play was made into a 1931 film and has been adapted several times for television and radio.

Synopsis

Act 1

Following a brief courtship, Elyot and Sybil are honeymooning at a hotel in Deauville, although her curiosity about his first marriage is not helping his romantic mood. In the adjoining suite, Amanda and Victor are starting their new life together, although he cannot stop thinking of the cruelty Amanda's ex-husband displayed towards her. Elyot and Amanda, following a volatile three-year-long marriage, have been divorced for the past five years, but they now discover that they are sharing a terrace while on their honeymoons with their new and younger spouses. Elyot and Amanda separately beg their new mates to leave the hotel with them immediately, but both new spouses refuse to cooperate and each storms off to dine alone. Realising they still love each other and regret having divorced, Elyot and Amanda abandon their mates and run off together to her flat in Paris.

Act 2

After dinner at the Paris flat several days later, Elyot and Amanda use their code word "Sollocks" to stop their arguments from getting out of hand. They kiss passionately, but the harmony cannot last: while Elyot and Amanda cannot live without each other, neither can they live with each other. They argue violently and try to outwit each other, just as they had done during their stormy marriage. Their ongoing argument escalates to the point of physical abuse, as Amanda breaks a record over Elyot's head, and he retaliates by slapping her face. They seem to be trapped in a repeating cycle of love and hate as their private passions and jealousies consume them. At the height of their biggest fight, Sybil and Victor walk in.

Act 3

The next morning, Amanda tries to sneak away early, but is surprised to find Sybil and Victor there. As they talk, Elyot comes in, and he and Amanda start bickering again. It has been decided that neither of the new spouses will grant a divorce for a year, to give Amanda and Elyot time to confirm if this is really what they want. As tempers rise, Sybil and Victor begin to bicker with each other, defending their respective spouses. Amanda and Elyot realise that Sybil and Victor are as suited to each other as they are, forgive one another and sneak out, leaving the younger two together. As Elyot and Amanda tiptoe out, Victor and Sybil have reached the point of mutual violence.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Private Lives" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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