What happens when you can't live with someone but can't live without them, either? That's one of the questions explored in Noel Coward's Private Lives, which opened at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, last night as the final production in the Collected Works 2012 season.
Amanda (played by Zahra Newman) and Elyot (Toby Schmitz) were married for three years and have been divorced for five. They are now newly wed to others - she to Victor (Toby Truslove), he to Sybil (Eloise Mignon). The honeymooning couples wind up at the same hotel and the old attractions stir in Amanda and Elyot.
Newman said, ''It's been a challenge for me … I've never seen myself as a comedy actor.''
But with Ralph Myers, whose first directorial assignment this was as artistic director of Belvoir in Sydney, she looked at the 1930 play from a more contemporary angle and was persuaded to play the role, her first in a Coward play.
Newman said: ''Amanda is the fiery counterpart to Elyot … if you have two fires, two fiery people, do they cancel each other out or do they encourage each other?''
Part of the challenge of the play, she said, was that it posed the question, do you settle for someone you love who offers an easy ride through life or do you take the more difficult option?
''I've never done Canberra before, and it's my first farce,'' she said. The style - ''open door, close door, look, look, look'' as she described it - took some time to get used to, she said.
''You just have to go with it.''
The national capital is the last stop in the production's tour. Also making her Canberra - and Coward - debut is Mignon, who said her character was something of a ''dumb blonde'' but had a bit more to her.
''She's very, very in love with Elyot, very happy to be married to Elyot … over the course of the play she has to learn a few things about relationships and love.''
And, Mignon said, Sybil had ''more of an aggressive streak than she herself recognises''.
■ Private Lives is on at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, until Saturday at 8pm with a 2pm matinee on Saturday. Tickets $39-$73. Bookings: 62752700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au