IF you’re quick, you’ve got just enough time to catch the new staging of Noël Coward’s gloriously entertaining Private Lives on at the Theatre Royal Bath, until Saturday November 6.

You always know an audience has enjoyed the play when there is prolonged applause and individuals shout 'more' and that's exactly what happened on Tuesday evening.

Noël Coward’s dazzling comic masterpiece is both a scintillatingly witty and scathingly vitriolic study of the rich and reckless in love. The audience reaction fully justified Nigel Havers decision to choose Private Lives for the inaugural production to launch his new theatre company.

Interestingly, it's also the first time that Nigel Havers has performed in a Noël Coward play as he takes on the role of Elyot alongside his "favourite actress" Olivier Award-winning Patricia Hodge as Amanda.

As he says: “The whole point of the theatre is to be entertained and I want audiences to have a really great time.” Directed by Christopher Luscombe, Private Lives certainly achieves that.

Havers and Hodge, both consummate professionals, elope, bicker and fight their way through Private Lives as an old married couple who meet again by chance on a hotel balcony on their respective honeymoons with other partners following an acrimonious divorce five years previously.

It's a joy to watch the two key parts being played by actors who trust each other implicitly and bring to the stage the raw passion their roles demand.

It gives the ever-suave Havers the chance to bring his louche charm to the role taken by Coward himself in the original 1930 production alongside Gertrude Lawrence, while Hodge brings a sophisticated wit and nervy restlessness to the role of Amanda.

The cast is completed by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as dull but decent Victor and Natalie Walter as insipid Sibyl, and Aïcha Kossoko in a brief walk-on role as Louise, the French maid.

John Baker