A Noel Coward moment

November 2004

Oxford drama has been having something of a Noel Coward moment. It began with the MyPetDragon production of Still Life at the Burton Taylor, which ended a five-day run on Saturday November 13.  Still Life is better known in its film incarnation as Brief Encounter, and retreading the material after such a classic adaptation is never easy, but this production made excellent work of it.

Freyja Cox Jensen, as Laura, had the frantic sadness of a caged animal. Her perfect performance stood out even among this strong cast, including Emma Jenkinson, who gave welcome depth to the essentially comic role of Myrtle. The tightness of the directing drew all the nuances from Coward’s script, and the well-chosen costumes were the final touch.

The whole production was an example of student drama at its best. Or so I thought, until I saw Private Lives at the Old Fire Station Theatre. This tale of two ex-lovers thrown together is in turns shocking, hilarious and even violent, and the astonishingly talented actors squeeze every drop from the material.

The whole cast sparkle, flirt and fight their way through three acts as if they’re having the time of their lives. Elisabeth Gray is breathtaking as Amanda, and the tension between her and Anthony Wilks, playing Elyot, is electric. Helena Johnson and Mark Grimmer turn in well-timed performances as Sibyl and Victor, the wronged spouses.

Even Cliodhna McAllister, on stage for a short time as the maid, gabbles fluent French and raises a few laughs. Costumes and set would rival those in a professional production. Private Lives runs until Saturday November 20, and should be required viewing for all fans of classic Coward.