GLAISDALE is beyond the back of beyond in the land of deep purple heather, and yet the Full House Tonight sign was up once more for Mark Stratton and Sheila Carter's moorland company on Tuesday's press night.

Such is Esk Valley Theatre's reputation that no fewer than 2,000 actors applied to audition for this summer's production of Noel Coward's "lightest of light plays", Private Lives, and the autumn tour around Yorkshire, Cleveland and Cumbria of Billy Manhoff's American comedy, The Owl And The Pussycat, that will follow from October 13 to November 10.

As serendipity would have it, Rhiannon Sommers was the very last to audition for maddening, yet irresistible Amanda, and director Mark Stratton must have thought all his Sommers had come at once, because she is utterly marvellous from start to finish and head to toe in this perfectly polished period drama.

Famously written in only four days in 1930 while Coward was in bed nursing flu in Shanghai on a tour of the Far East, his sculpted comedy of elegant manners, frivolous folk and disingenuous behaviour meets with a suitably snazzy design by Graham Kirk on the Robinson Institute's compact stage.

Kirk begins by evoking the Thirties' French sea air on the sun-drenched balcony of a grand Deauville hotel as Nicholas Goode's Elyot Chase starts his honeymoon with his second wife, Laura McAlpine's doe-eyed, much younger, cautious Sybil.

Quite by chance, honeymooning in the adjoining room is ex-wife Amanda (Sommers) and her decent, if dull and pompous new beau, Victor Prynne (Garry Summers, with just the right slant of moustache).

York Press:

Off to a tea: Esk Valley Theatre's elegant production of Noel Coward's Private Lives. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Married for only three years and divorced for five, nevertheless rational thinking is tossed aside in an uncontrollable rekindling of a never extinguished flame of passion as gadflies Elyot and Amanda abandon the inexperienced Sybil and stuffy Victor and fall in love anew, madly more than deeply.

Off to Paris they giddily go, where Goode's waspish, stinging Elyot and Sommers' easily bored Amanda delight in the devilry and dash of Coward's humour, but crucially Stratton's lead actors locate the creeping sadness of a couple in a cycle of attraction, irritation and disaffection.

This second act is beautifully choreographed, Goode and Sommers engaged in a reckless, feckless pas de deux where Amanda is wound up by Elyot's sardonic air, he by her capricious nature, as they spark up cigarettes one after another but never to any soothing satisfaction.

Coward once conceded Sybil and Victor were "little better than ninepins, lightly wooden and only there at all to be repeatedly knocked down and stood up again", but Stratton has cast well in McAlpine and Summers, who judge exquisitely how to annoy spouses, each other and audience alike to our rising amusement.

Christine Walls' delightful costumes and the evocative Thirties music, Goode's piano playing et al, complete this rewarding revival of a Coward classic that still cuts to the Chase most incisively and wittily.

Private Lives, Esk Valley Theatre, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until September 1. Box office: 01947 897587