STAGE REVIEW: Private Lives - at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Wednesday, September 6 to Saturday, September 9, 2017.

SHORT, quite sweet and sure to enjoy a successful national tour after this hugely enjoyable launch night.

Noel Coward’s offering may not be the lengthiest in the theatre but it is now a shade long in the tooth.

Nevertheless it is quite absorbing and engaging, and if Malvern’s opening night is anything to go by it will entice a more mature audience in substantial numbers as it moves around the country.

After Malvern it’s on to Bury St Edmunds, London, and then places such as Winchester and Blackpool, before its conclusion in late November at Plymouth. So they have a little treat on the way with a production which looks particularly well honed even for this earliest of days on the road.

The proof is there, if proof were needed, that there is still considerable pulling power for such a nostalgic offering provided by the masterful Coward - and although it’s all over inside a couple of hours, including the interval, you hardly feel short-changed.

Coward’s classic comedic stamp is evident early on as the four-strong central cast of Olivia Beardsley, Helen Keeley, Kieran Buckeridge and Jack Hardwick confidently deliver the goods with considerable presence and panache.

Everything, set and costume-wise, stays true to the era in which it was penned as relationships are examined head on. Strong-willed to survive or will the submissive let inner strength surface?

There’s obviously a little dash of decadence too, quite a dollop of physicality as the sparks fly and accents that could cut glass themselves.

There’s also a hint of a more modern day offering from the splendid Alan Ayckbourn as we witness two divorcees turning up at the same French hotel on honeymoon with their new marriage partners.

It’s then - will they, won’t they? And with a swap-over on the cards the audience is led through war and peace to what is, at best, a happy but bizarre conclusion.

Michael Cabot’s directing of this London Classic Theatre production is top notch as it maintains the bar at a high level thanks to a cast that is the perfect unit.