YORKSHIRE moorland company Esk Valley Theatre is staging Noel Coward's Private Lives, at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, through the summer with actors called Summers and Sommers among the cast.

In this 1930 comedy of manners, Amanda (played by Rhiannon Sommers) is divorced from Elyot (Nicholas Goode) and is on honeymoon in Deauville with her new husband Victor (Garry Summers). Elyot is on honeymoon too with his new wife Sibyl (Laura McAlpine). The couples are enjoying the French coast, the moon is coming up and an orchestra plays in the distance. What could possibly go wrong?

Here, director Mark Stratton discusses Coward, comedy style, cast size and cutting his cloth accordingly with Charles Hutchinson.

What attracted you to presenting Noel Coward’s comedy of society shenanigans, Mark?

"It's important to celebrate our rich theatrical heritage and Private Lives is a great example of Noel Coward's writing, full of wit and razor-sharp dialogue, with a subtle layer of social observation infusing the story.

"We love plays that get under the skin of the human condition and it certainly does that, as Coward exposes the private lives of the characters. Lives where passions run deep and the forces of attraction run riot. Let us take you back to 1930, where in public all appears to be glamour, elegance and sophistication, but in private…?"

York Press:

Esk Valley Theatre's poster for Noel Coward's Private Lives

What does Coward’s play say to a modern audience?

"I think it says, this is what we were all like in 1930 and nothing has really changed in the way that people behave. We still have the same hopes, fears, insecurities etc., and regardless of social conventions sometimes hearts rule heads."

What do you most like about Noel Coward’s writing?

"It's well structured, accessible and full of the confidence of a man who knew his craft. Good writing is good writing, no matter how old it is and modern audiences deserve to see plays like this because it is riveting on the ear. It has the power to entrance through the rythmns of the text and sharp dialogue.

People talk about a "Noel Coward style", but do you cast that to one side and treat the play afresh?

"I guess if you're going to do justice to the writer's intentions then you have to embrace the style of their work. I think we have achieved that but have kept an open mind in rehearsal and hopefully made it our own."

What will a rural Yorkshire audience make of a chic, elegant, glamorous city play?!!

"It's always hard to predict how a production will be received, but the feedback after the first night has been excellent."

Esk Valley Theatre usually presents plays with smaller casts. Why did you decide to push the boat out this time?

"We're always trying to push boundaries and stretch ourselves, and if we find a play we want to do then we work hard to put the finance in place to do it."

York Press:

Once bitten, twice bitten: Nicholas Goode's Elyot and Rhiannon Sommers' Amanda in Private Lives. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

What design has Graham Kirk created to evoke Coward’s world?

"We have no wing space at Esk Valley Theatre and very little depth, so we have to cut our cloth accordingly! It presents a special challenge with a play like Private Lives, but Graham has created two beautiful hotel balconies, which magically transform into an elegant Paris flat, so the performance of our stage crew – all two of them – is worth watching in the first interval.

"Graham's set has an Art Deco feel and the traditional grand piano, although we couldn't run to a Steinway!"

Tell us about your cast members and why you selected them….

"As always at Esk Valley Theatre, the only casting criteria we have is to find the best available actors for the job. We had four days of auditions and saw some terrific people before selecting Rhiannon Sommers, Nicholas Goode, Laura McAlpine, Garry Summers and Fiona Organ, who plays the maid, Louise.

"We haven't worked with any of them before, but they are all experienced and had the qualities we were looking for."

What is your favourite story about Noel Coward?

"He was evidently very kind and generous to people in the theatre who had fallen on hard times. It's always nice to hear that kind of thing."

Esk Valley Theatre presents Noel Coward's Private Lives at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until September 1. Tickets: £14/£13 on 01947 897587.