Exploring the greatest new and classic plays

SUPPORT OUR PODCAST BY BECOMING A PATRON
CLICK HERE

Oliver Soden

Oliver Soden

Oliver Soden
Oliver Soden is the author of Masquerade – The Lives of Noël Coward , the first new biography in nearly thirty years, published in March 2023 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. In its five-star review the Telegraph described the book as “truthful, sympathetic and thorough” – “this is the biography that Coward deserves.”

Oliver is also the author of a biography of the composer Michael Tippett, and of Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat, a semi-fictionalised biography of the cat who belonged to eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart, which was one of the TLS’s books of the year in 2020.

Oliver writes on art, music and literature for the national press, and is a frequent speaker and researcher on radio, including on Radio 3’s long-running programme Private Passions.

Photo by Sarah Lee
Recommended Play(s)
Oliver recommended Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel.

 

 

 

 

 

062 – Private Lives, by Noël Coward

062 – Private Lives, by Noël Coward

Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan
in Private Lives
at the Donmar Theatre April 2023
Photo by Marc Brenner

 

062 – Private Lives, by Noël Coward

The curtain rises on the terrace of a seaside hotel in France.  A pretty young woman, smartly dressed in travelling clothes, steps out onto the terrace. She leans on the balustrade and regards the view of the lights twinkling on the sea with an ecstatic expression. She is on the first night of her honeymoon.

This is the opening of what appears to be a classic romantic comedy set among the fashionable set in the 1930s. It is certainly very funny and stylish, but Noël Coward’s Private Lives might better be called an ‘unromantic comedy’. Within the cloak of its dazzling wit, it is in fact an excoriating portrait of love and marriage among the disaffected elite in the dying days of the Jazz Age.

Private Lives premiered at the newly built Phoenix Theatre in London in 1930, with Noël Coward himself playing the part of Elyot, alongside his favourite female partner, Gertie Lawrence, for whom he had written the role of his marital sparring partner Amanda. The production was a great success, both in London and on its transfer to Broadway, the critics admiring the play’s construction and sparkling wit, but predicting it would not last. One Broadway critic called it “an admirable piece of fluff.” But last it has, as approaching a century on, a new production at the Donmar Theatre in London, sees Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan in imperious form as the warring couple, both entertaining and challenging a modern audience. So why has Private Lives endured long after the world it is set in has disappeared. Is there more to this piece of fluff than high style and flippant wit?

To help me answer that question I am lucky to be joined in this discussion about the play by a Coward expert, Oliver Soden. Oliver is the author of a brand-new biography of Noël Coward, the first in nearly thirty years, which was published just last month.

You can listen to our review of Private Lives at the Donmar theatre here: 
The Play Review – Private Lives.

Oliver Soden

Oliver Soden is the author of Masquerade – The Lives of Noël Coward , the first new biography in nearly thirty years, published in March 2023 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. In its five-star review the Telegraph described the book as “truthful, sympathetic and thorough” – “this is the biography that Coward deserves.”

Oliver is also the author of a biography of the composer Michael Tippett, and of Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat, a semi-fictionalised biography of the cat who belonged to eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart, which was one of the TLS’s books of the year in 2020.

Oliver writes on art, music and literature for the national press, and is a frequent speaker and researcher on radio, including on Radio 3’s long-running programme Private Passions.

Recommended Play

Oliver recommended Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel.

Photo by Sarah Lee

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on Noël Coward’s Private Lives include observations on what kind of love is on show in the play, on Sybil and Amanda as different kinds of women, and on the verbal precision of Coward’s language.

Become a Patron!
Since I launched The Play Podcast in April 2020, I have managed to eschew any form of advertising or sponsorship, and I would like to continue to produce the podcast without doing so. I therefore invite you to help me to continue to make the podcast by becoming a Patron.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as exclusive access to The Play Review.

For details click here

Thank you very much for listening and for your support.
Douglas

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them from our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s. Not only will you be supporting independent booksellers, we will also earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Click on the cover to buy from our chosen partner. Thank you.
You might also be interested in …
082 – People, Places & Things by Duncan Macmillan

082 – People, Places & Things by Duncan Macmillan

Published 20th June

Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places & Things is a blisteringly frank and funny portrait of addiction and invented identity. When the play premiered at the National Theatre in 2015, Denise Gough won awards for her electrifying performance, and as we record this episode she revives her role in London’s West End.

It is a fascinating and challenging play, and an exhilarating piece of theatre. I am delighted to talk with its author, Duncan Macmillan, and the production’s director, Jeremy Herrin.

081 – The Government Inspector, by Nikolay Gogol

081 – The Government Inspector, by Nikolay Gogol

Vladimir Nabokov described The Government Inspector as the “greatest play in the Russian language”. Gogol’s comedy of mistaken identity is an unexpected mix of fantastical farce and serious social satire. that has survived as a paradigm of political corruption and social hypocrisy in any age or place.

As we record this episode a new adaptation of the play written and directed by Patrick Myles arrives on the London stage, and I’m delighted to talk with Patrick about this classic play and its enigmatic author.

080 – Long Day’s Journey into Night, by Eugene O’Neill

080 – Long Day’s Journey into Night, by Eugene O’Neill

Eugene O’Neill wrote his autobiographical magnum opus, Long Day’s Journey into Night, in 1941, but because of the personal revelations it contained he gave explicit instructions that it was not to be published until 25 years after his death and that it should never be staged. In the event his widow allowed both to occur in 1956, only three years after his death, when the play won O’Neill his fourth Pulitzer prize.

As we record this episode, a powerful new production of the play is playing in London, with Brian Cox and Patricia Clarkson heading the cast. I am delighted and privileged to talk with the production’s director, Jeremy Herrin, about O’Neill’s monumental play.

Photo by Johan Persson.