It seems that there is no expiry date on Noël Coward’s Private Lives.

For a circumstance so utterly cruel as abandoning one’s spouse on your wedding night to run off with an ex, it’s shameful how unendingly funny the whole thing is.

Arguably that piece of plot isn’t the butt of every joke, but a ruthless mechanism for Coward to examine human beings in all their absurdity, and hypocrisy. 

Visually this Theatre Royal Bath production is extremely satisfying. From the palatial hotel balconies of Deauville to a gorgeous art deco flat in Paris, the stylish set is faithful to the play’s 1930s origins.

News Shopper: Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge in Private Lives at the Ambassadors TheatreNigel Havers and Patricia Hodge in Private Lives at the Ambassadors Theatre (Image: Tristram Kenton)

Turning one’s gaze away from the stage, the newly refurbished Ambassadors Theatre provides a beautiful frame for Coward’s intimate picture of amoral glamour, the gilding and furnishing reminiscent of a time when going to the theatre was a grand affair.

Theatre and architecture buffs will have a ball play notwithstanding, as it’s the first production since the multimillion-pound makeover to grace the Ambassadors’ stage.

A generous glass of wine will put you back more than £10, but that’s par for the course in the West End these days.

Earlier this year the Donmar revived Private Lives in a sinister interpretation that rendered words vicious and actions violent.

As the warring Elyot and Amanda, Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge’s performances are far more physically reserved, and kinder for it.

Sarcasm over spite, and playfulness over aggression are the order of the day. Jibes and retorts maintain their acid quality, but the elegance and charm of the messengers prevents uncomfortable emotions from lingering too long. It’s smartly carried off, the audience entirely duped by the surface respectability of Coward’s articulate lovers. 

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Natalie Walter provide a welcome contrast as the more heartful Victor and Sibyl.

Coward cannot resist unmasking even his sympathetic characters, and no one escapes unscathed in this production either, when the dam breaks for Lockhart and Walter we all breathe a sigh of comical relief.

Close to 100 years after it was written the play is as contemporary as ever, losing none of its relevance, because aren’t we all after all just dreadful?

Private Lives runs at Ambassadors Theatre, London until 25 November 2023.