In many ways, Private Lives is a child of the Jazz Age, also known as the Roaring Twenties. Written in 1930, the play itself was created at the tail end of the era. Though the Jazz Age is most often thought of as an era of American history, the popularity of jazz music spread to Britain and France. There’s no doubt that the wild and eccentric Elyot and Amanda would have been fans of jazz music and would have frequented jazz clubs and cabarets.
The Jazz Age ran in tandem with the Art Deco movement of architecture and art. The Art Deco style eclectically combines craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. the style, characterized by rich colors and bold geometric shapes, became and still is synonymous with luxury, glamor, and exuberance.
Of course, the Jazz Age was about more than just music and art. The 1920s and early 1930s also saw the emergence of the “modern woman.” Skirts and haircuts got shorter, morals got looser, and social and sexual norms were constantly challenged. There’s not a doubt that Amanda–a woman who drinks and smokes and says things like “It doesn’t suit men for women to be promiscuous”–would consider herself a modern woman.
As jazz, Art Deco, and the idea of the modern women are so important to the characters in Private Lives, we wanted to incorporate those ideas into our production as much as possible. In our production, you will hear music of and inspired by the Jazz Age. Some of the music we’ve selected is written and sung by Noel Coward himself. Other selections are by Coward’s contemporaries, such as Cole Porter. We’ve also sneaked in some current songs, particularly from German singer Max Raabe whose sound is deeply inspired and influenced by the music of the 1920s and 1930s.
In addition, our set and costume design takes several cues from the Art Deco movement. The strong metallic color palette often seen in Art Deco will be featured prominently in the set. The costumes, especially for Amanda, reflect what was en vogue and fashionable for the era.
In researching 1920s and 1930s art and culture, we stumbled upon and fell in love with the art of George Barbier. Aside from Coward himself, it’s safe to say that Barbier has inspired our production more than any other artist or historical figure.
Born in 1882, Barbier was one of the great French artists of the early 20th century. A true renaissance man, Barbier did everything from designing jewelry and wallpaper to providing set and costume designs for the ballet and Folies Bergere to illustrating books. As a painter, Barbier was a master at using color to capture mood, and his whimsical style depicted the fashions of high-society in an intoxicating and unique manner. His illustrations and paintings have a romantic feel and are inextricably linked to the Art Deco style.
It’s Barbier’s “Oui!” that became the visual tentpole of our production. The seaside balcony setting and romantic tone mirrors the first act of Private Lives, and it has inspired us in innumerable ways. The work is featured in the logo design of our production and is also featured in the scenic design in the final two acts.
To see more art by George Barbier, please click here.