Three Plays

ISBN: 0394175352
ISBN 13: 9780394175355
By: Noël Coward

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Reader's Thoughts


This is for Private Lives: A fun play. Very cute. Very English. Pretty funny. Wouldn't suggest reading it but perhaps go see it on the stage.


out of the three i've only read private lives so far plus i recently saw it at london's gielgud theatre and i giggled merrily for two straight hours. this is so very english and very satisfying.


While I don't think I can argue against Coward's clever dialogue and sharp wit, my ultimate enjoyment of these plays was diminished by what felt like an authorial mean-spiritedness or disgust with human nature. Was Coward a misanthrope? I don't know enough of his biography to discern the spirit in which his Blithe was intended. Maybe I just don't get him, or should have seen these performed rather than reading them...but as this collection was offered up as an alternative to (the superlative) Wodehouse, I'd choose stories of Jeeves and Wooster anyday.

Sarah Ryburn

i've been a fan of noel coward since seeing a production of relative values many years ago at the alabama shakespeare festival (we saw a shakespearean production, too, of course, but coward looms much larger in memory). i assigned blithe spirit as a summer reading option for my ap students this year, and i really hope some will read it, although all three selections are clever, witty, and hilarious. more so if i could take them to a live production. i remember laughing out loud almost continuously in values. i've heard actors say that comedy is often more difficult to play well than tragedy- coward's dialogue really does sparkle between competent actors with a command of timing. still, so many of his lines leap off the page with undeniable zing! delightful, even when his characters behave abominably.


All the plays were entertaining and easy reading. Interesting views of relationships given by Coward in his writing. I'm fascinated by the fact that in all three plays he either directed, staged or starred in the premiers. Makes me want to know more about him personally.

Paul Frandano

So...I bought this only for Private Lives, because I knew I'd be going to a well-reviewed DC production, and, if possible, I like to read a play before I see it - an acquired preference from classical theater and opera. And speaking of acquired, Coward's that kind of taste, isn't he? Particularly 70-90 years after he wrote these confections? Well, it's a taste - for dry, bantering, cleverly corrosive wit - I acquired long ago, before Coward, and so I found Private Lives HOWLINGLY funny on the page and on the stage. I sat up late last Saturday to read this, and I feared I'd wake up the house with my whoops and guffaws. Coward cracks wise about every third line, and it's just tie-wing collar-patent leather pumps-English. (I wanted to say Wildean, but that would be Irish, wouldn't it?) This is what Elizabethan comedy's superabundance of clever clever clever words words words evolves into in London's West End between the Wars. So demmed smart (as in "smart set" smart, not smart as "intelligent" - although it's that, too, in trumps). And so trippingly like what every bright Oxbridgean wants to sound like at the cocktail party. Of course, the story is ridiculous. But with a neatly balanced three acts, which takes reader or theatergoer up a clever hill and down a similar, similarly bright, hill for a somewhat predictable conclusion, handsomely wrought, at a pace, even on the page, that's racehorse brisk. In the theater, the play literally crackles, throws off sparks, shimmers like shook foil. There we sit - we're Victor and Sybil, wholly conventional, in our conventional little lives, supermarket-rack best-sellers on our night tables, with our comfy jobs, and comfortable incomes - watching these upper-crust Wildings toss the conventional order, between sips of bubbly, as it suits their whims, with an insouciant noblesse oblige and without a care concerning who or whom they may run over by accident. Delightful. Delicious.I'm now a new Noel Coward fan and look forward to exploring his plays, prose, music, and interesting life. (Mad "coincidence": I was laid up sick as a dog in the same Shanghai hotel in which, also sick as a dog, Coward wrote Private Lives in 1930. Right: no real coincidence, okay, okay, but I felt a little more grounded in his world, in a memory of my looking out the window on similar Shanghai streets and the Huangpu River: the Cathay was an elegant venue, the brightest light on the Shanghai bund, in 1930. Fifty-some years later, the carpets were threadbare, the brass tarnished, the water somewhat rusty, but it still had a perceptible, albeit faded, Art Deco elegance. And fabulous "puffs of cream" from the ancient pastry chef of the famous restaurant...perhaps descendants of the same puffs Coward might have enjoyed in 1930 after recovering from his ailment...)


No one does flippant like Noel Coward. But rather than seeming superficial, there is a righteousness to the point that he often makes between the lines. Fast, easy, satisfying reading. Fans of Oscar Wilde and others of that comedic ilk will be delighted.


Ground Zero for witty plays that were written in the Twenties or early 30's. Very classic in its style, and biting dialogue. Coward overreached in many cases, yet one realizes that there is only one Noel Coward, and that, is not a bad place to be at all.


After a month of slogging through Dostoyevky's magnum opus, the Brothers Karamazov, it was refreshing to turn my attention from tragedy to comedy, from morals to manners. As Coward writes in Private Lives..."Let's be superficial and pity the poor philosophers." Amen. My son Henry introduced me to Coward by recruiting me to play two female characters in Blithe Spirit while he was practicing his lines as Charles, and it was the most fun I ever had helping out with homework. If I'd had the big bucks, I'd have jetted us off to New York to watch Rupert Everett play Charles on Broadway. Of the other two plays, Hay Fever is maybe a little too messy, but Private Lives is, for all its cynicsm, a compelling story of enduring love.


Three of the funniest plays written in the language. "Blithe Spirit" is an even more wondrous comedy since it deals primarily in death.


This volume included a humorous intro by Edward Albee."Blithe Spirit." I hadn't read any Coward before, and had a notion his work would be laugh-out-loud funny, like Wodehouse's, but I found this play, although extremely literate and witty, wasn't as risible as that. It concerns a man whose first wife, after a seance, reappears to plague him and his second wife. Then the latter dies, too, remanifests, and his life becomes somewhat exasperating. A jolly good plot and all, but I can't help feeling that it could have been more exuberant, if, say, it had detailed the catfighting of the two dead women, or spent more time on them deciding after death that they were pals and that Charles, the hero, was the cad. And the ending was too sudden and – a glaring omission – totally unexplained. An enjoyable, witty play, and one with clever innuendo, but I don't see its "classic" reputation, as it seems so flawed."Hay Fever." This one was, I thought, funnier than the first, but perhaps less witty. It concerned a very bohemian, theatrical and artsy family that bordered on the dysfunctional without actually ever going beyond mere theatrics, instantly forgetting all strife moments after it begins. The family's guests for the weekend are all horrified. It was funny, but it all lead up to a reaction – such as the guests plotting a kind of revenge on the family that used them as theatrical foils – that never came. I suppose in 1925 the personas of the family were novel enough to carry the play. Also flawed, but also comic and fun."Private Lives." About a divorced couple who both remarry and happen to meet again on their simultaneous honeymoons, and then run off together. They fight horribly, and seem to cause their respective second spouses to quarrel just as horribly, and seem to find it amusing. Rather an unpleasant little work, but mildly amusing in parts.


Another collection so each play will be reviewed seperately.Blithe Spirit (*****): Very funny play showing off Cowards wit on every page with a great story and intriguing characters. The theme of love is dealt with very nicely and realistically as Charles has to deal with the ghost of his previous wife, Elvira, while living with his current wife Ruth and the differences in his marriages to them.Hay Fever(***): Personally this was the weakest play out of the three. The characters got a bit bland and the storyline slowly became predictable. However it still had some funny moments and would be interesting to see onstage.Private Lives (*****): This is Cowards most well known play and it's easy to see why, the characters of Amanda and Eliot are great together and with their new partners, Victor and Sybil respectively and the humour is well written. There are several poignant moments which contrast with some of the more dramatic/comedic scenes nicely

Karen S

I really liked Blithe Spirit when I saw it as a play. Reading them 'by myself', the plays don't seem quite as funny. Veddy upper-class British, but sometimes I enjoy that. Would probably prefer to see any of the 3 produced more than I enjoyed reading them.


Blithe Spirit holds up as well on page as in the theatre. It is a delightful read, full of wit!


Love Coward's biting wit and dialogue - enjoyed all three plays.

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