Sunday, May 15, 2011

Private Lives

When reading a book it is easy to not think about how a movie version of the book would turn out (as most of them don’t live up to expectations) but when you read a play it is hard to not wish you were seeing it live. This is how I felt when reading Noël Coward’s 1930 play Private Lives (3 Acts, 90 pages).

There are two things I absolutely loved about this play; a) the considerable amount of dramatic irony used in Act One, and b) the fast paced, back-and-forth dialogue between all four major characters.

You should read, or watch, the play to see the irony in Act One, but I will delve a little into the dialogue. Most of the banter-like discourse between the characters and childish bickering that ensures constantly in each act makes it hard to not hold a smile when reading it, and even let out an odd giggle or two.

One of my favourite scenes is between Amanda and Sibyl, as they discuss them reuniting after divorcing years ago;

Amanda: Do you realise that we’re living in sin?

Elyot: Not according to the Catholics, Catholics don’t recognise divorce. We’re married as much as ever we were.

Amanda: Yes, dear, but we’re not Catholics.

Elyot: Never mind, it’s nice to think they’d sort of back us up.

(Act 2, pg. 42)

It is witticism like that which fills the play and makes it an enjoyable read.

As with many of the books I read I have found a new word to add to vocabulary; slattern. Basically a term to describe a ‘dirty woman’ or, if you’ll allow me, a slut.

Here is how it is used between Amanda and Elyot as they argue about the rights of men to hit their wives;

Amanda: I’ve been brought up to believe that it’s beyond the pale, for a man to strike a woman.

Elyot: A very poor tradition. Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.

Amanda: You’re an unmitigated cad, and a bully.

Elyot: And you’re an ill-mannered, bad-tempered slattern.

Amanda: (loudly) Slattern indeed.

Elyot: Yes, slattern, slattern, slattern, and fishwife.

(Act 3, pg. 72)

Although I don’t condone calling women sluts (let alone hitting them) this play is full of ‘dark’ humour like that. If I ever see this advertised as being performed near me I will be buying myself a ticket!

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-413-74490-6

Coward, Noël. Private Lives. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1999. Print.

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