THE year is 1930 and the Great Depression is taking hold around the world, but English comic playwright Noel Coward's characters in Private Lives - Amanda and Elyot - are ensconced in their lavish lifestyles and oblivious to the imminent disaster.
Seasoned Perth actress Kirsty Hillhouse plays Amanda in Onward Production's version of one of the most enduring successes of comedic theatre about chance meetings, jaded ex-lovers and the flickering of old flames.
“It was written in 1929 but first performed in 1930, and it was right on the cusp (of the Great Depression) hitting England,” Hillhouse said.
“The war is just over Amanda and Elyot's shoulder, yet they're refusing to notice it.”
Elyot and Amanda, recently divorced, find themselves in adjoining rooms on their honeymoon with their new partners. They meet alone on their balconies, realise they can't live without each other, and run away to Amanda's apartment in Paris, where they soon discover that they can't live with each other.
As their fighting reaches its climax, their weary, jaded spouses, Sibyl and Victor, turn up and passions and jealousies escalate.
“They're like the famous romantics or lovers in history - Beatrice and Benedict, or Romeo and Juliet,” Hillhouse said.
“It's a chemical reaction that only happens with one other person in your life; there's no other way to describe, predict or understand it. It's just a powerful reaction…and with that comes powerful pain.”
Much of Coward's multi-decade body of work was criticised as being too radical.
Similarly, Hillhouse said Private Lives - revived many times on Broadway and the West End featuring Richard Burton (late husband of Onward Production's director Sally Burton), Alan Rickman, Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Cattrall - was regarded as a ground-breaking comedy of manners.
“Amanda smoked, drank, danced, lived wildly and travelled…they rejected all of society's mores and that was incredibly shocking for its time.”
Private Lives is at Subiaco Arts Centre from November 25-December 10.