It's only been about five months since the last London revival of Noël Coward's "sleek comedy" "Private Lives", said Clive Davis in The Times. By and large, the reviewers were "not convinced" by the Donmar's staging, which sought to "recalibrate" the play as a "meditation on domestic violence". This new version, arriving in the West End following a successful tour, takes a far more traditional approach, said Anya Ryan on Time Out. Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge play the warring exes Elyot and Amanda, who meet again while on honeymoon with their new spouses, and both are superb. Christopher Luscombe's production "never quite digs into the fury hidden within Coward's humour", but it is a pleasure to watch, and "gets the laughs rolling in thick and fast".
The whole thing is a "delicious retro treat", said Victoria Segal in The Sunday Times – the "theatrical equivalent of a prawn cocktail followed by crêpes suzette from the dessert trolley". But there is nothing anodyne or complacent about it. Havers and Hodge utterly convince as "two terminally bored people prepared to wreck everything just to feel something, jamming their hands into the psychosexual electricity sockets for the sparks" – and the evening is bathed in a feeling of "dyspeptic unease".
A "witty, handsome revival", it succeeds by allowing the "profundity to quietly transcend the flippancy", said Marianka Swain in The Daily Telegraph. And the casting of much older actors than usual adds a "wintry poignancy to this tale of second chances". Havers, a man who was surely born wearing a "Coward-esque silk dressing gown", is clearly "having a ball" as the petulant but maddeningly charming Elyot. But it's the "marvellously queenly" Hodge who really steals this "fizzing" show. She "wields her crisp diction like a scalpel, slicing out every morsel of Amanda's scathing putdowns". Sometimes all you want at the theatre "is to see a couple of consummate pros take a classic out for a spin", said Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard. If that's the case, look no further.
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Ambassadors Theatre, London WC2; theambassadorstheatre.co.uk. Until 25 November. Rating ****
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