As Helen Keeley says, playing Noël Coward’s comedy Private Lives isn’t about imagining yourself back in the 1920s or 1930s.
“The director said you don’t have to think like that. We aren’t acting and thinking now like we are in 2018. We are just in 2018. We are just in the now, and that’s the thing.”
Seize that and you seize the modernity of Coward’s masterpiece which London Classic Theatre tours to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 6 and 7.
But that’s not to say that you don’t have to speak in a very Coward-type way. It’s essential that you do.
“It is all very heightened. I am speaking the way that my grandma spoke. My great uncle, her brother, came to see the show and he said ‘You are speaking exactly like Margaret! She would have been very proud!’”
The piece is set in Deauville, France. Two newly-married couples occupy adjoining honeymoon suites in the same hotel. As a distant orchestra plays, Sibyl gazes adoringly at charismatic husband Elyot while Victor admires his new wife, the vivacious and sophisticated Amanda.
Champagne flows and the sea shimmers in the moonlight as the newlyweds prepare for the evening ahead. But when Amanda overhears a familiar voice singing a forgotten song, an old spark reignites with spectacular consequences.
In the show Helen is Amanda alongside Olivia Beardsley as Sibyl. They toured for 13 weeks before Christmas since when they have been joined by two new cast members, Gareth Bennett-Ryan (Elyot Chase) and Paul Sandys (Victor Prynne).
The changes have helped keep the energy high.
“I really enjoyed the change. We really miss the boys that we had before, but it gives us something fresh especially as we have been doing it for so long. There are just things that are different. It is almost like some of the jokes are in different places. The new boys just have slightly-different comic timing.”
And for the existing members of the cast, it was a reminder that things didn’t have to be done exactly as they were doing them.
“We shouldn’t be thinking ‘Oh, no, that’s how we used to do that’ or just trying to shoehorn in the ways that we always did it.
“It just comes down to different personalities, I think, just the way they play them. Jack, the previous Elyot was quite catty and fast and witty. Gareth is slower and more cutting and a bit more languorous. The previous Victor was six foot two and played it with lots of limbs flailing whereas our new Victor is a lot smaller and a lot feistier.
“And I think our performances have changed as well. Like I say, it is about not shoehorning it in. It is about unlearning the muscle memory.”
For Helen it is a happy return to the company
“My first job out of drama school was Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest for London Classic Theatre six years ago. I met the director at drama school and I saw he was doing The Importance of Being Earnest so I furiously wrote off to him and asked if he would consider me.
“And he did. And it was fantastic as my first job and really got me my touring stripes. And then when I saw that he was doing Private Lives, I wrote to him again. It has been great.”
Tickets for Private Lives are available from Worthing Theatres box office on 01903 206206 or online at worthingtheatres.co.uk.