A mix of playfulness and passion characterised the Balloon Head Theatre Company’s inaugural production, Private Lives, taking the audience on one heck of an emotional rollercoaster. Noel Coward’s classic comedy of romance, with all its twists and turns, is encapsulated by the line ‘Chance rules my life’. The company carried this essence beautifully, with a truly endearing performance that managed to maintain a definite level of professionalism without ever taking itself too seriously.
The small cast of five worked impeccably well together, each actor constantly aware of and responsive to the presence of their ensemble, with their kinaesthetic cohesion amplifying the believability of the relationships. Amanda and Elyot, played by Seren Oroszvary and Oscar Shaw, made a powerful duo with a comfortable intimacy onstage, in moments of both bliss and conflict. All the actors knew their characters well and were true to them throughout the production, despite the twists and turns that could have thrown them off. Though all the characters were engaging in their own right, Ben Symon’s portrayal of Victor was comic gold. Symon turned every sentence into a punch-line, exuding humour in every aspect of his character: from a perfectly timed shift of his stereotypical tourist’s bum bag, to the delivery itself, which never felt as if he was trying to be funny.
The play was carried by perfectly timed comic moments, directed to fulfil and expand the potential of the script, and bring that comedy into a more modern setting. It was refreshing to see that every bit of humour, whether told or suggested, was somehow subtle while at the same time never done halfway. Moments of tension and romance, which were switched between dizzyingly quickly, were also played quite poignantly, but lacked the precision the comedy had. This was noticeable mostly in the second act, which largely consisted of Amanda and Elyot in their Paris hideaway. Though highly emotional and fluid, this scene dragged on, and slowed down the pace of the play so that it lost its liveliness, and the intensity of the emotional rollercoaster waned.
A testament to the company was the professional manner in which they handled an emergency during the performance. The audience was kept informed and calm, and the actors didn’t miss a beat despite the interruption, returning to the scene with the same level of energy and focus.
There were some minor choices that detracted slightly from the calibre of the production. The set change done by Oroszvary and Shaw that preceded the intermission honestly just felt awkward, and seemed unnecessary, considering the set was changed even further during intermission. Instead of heightening the frenzy and speed of the fleeing couple, it only slowed them down having to lug large pieces of set around the stage. The music and sound effects were often too loud. You had to strain to hear the loving exchanges and in the climax of the tension between Amanda and Elyot a thunderstorm sound effect completely drowned out the actors.
Overall though, as far as inaugural performances go, the Balloon Head Theatre Company have done brilliantly. The cast was electric, with commitment to their characters and to the story they were telling. Amelia Burke’s direction took everything it could from Coward’s script and then gave some more, creating wonderful moments of comedy and poignancy, and giving it something refreshingly playful and modern. The company’s synergy and vitality is already so apparent, and it will be exciting to see how it develops in their future productions.
Balloon Head Theatre’s Private Lives ran from April 20th – 22nd in the Guild Theatre.