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Three Plays: Blithe Spirit / Hay Fever / Private Lives

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  2,301 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Filled with languid aristocrats trading witticisms as they wait for martinis, this collection of three Noel Coward plays encapsulates the qualities that made him one of the most popular playwrights of the 1930s and '40s and one of the great personalities of the century.
In Blithe Spirit, Charles Condomine receives a visit from his first wife, Elvira. Unfortunately, Elvira
Paperback, 254 pages
Published January 26th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1965)
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Hamlet by William ShakespeareMacbeth by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeRomeo and Juliet by William ShakespeareWaiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Best Plays Ever
701 books — 928 voters
Hamlet by William ShakespeareMacbeth by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeRomeo and Juliet by William ShakespeareThe Crucible by Arthur Miller
Best Play Ever
448 books — 401 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Blithe Spirit is Coward's best play and one of the
all-time best comedies; opening in 1941, it ran 2 years on Bwy and 4 years in London. (A daft Medium conjures up the hero's dead wife). Private Lives (1930) is a classic, or "charade," as Coward says, of 2 young married couples who become entangled by their own passions and immature temperaments. I want to focus on Hay Fever, a perfect screwballer about a confusion of guests at a houseparty. It isnt easy to write a play about Nothing, but Coward
Aug 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 buck ...more
Paul Frandano
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
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 pa
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Pace Lockwood-davis
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm a big fan of Noel Coward and this is a perfect read. Three excellent pieces.
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Three Plays” is an excellent collection of three works by that most sardonic of wits, Noel Coward. There are a few too many typos in this edition to suit me, but that it is a minor quibble.
I have written something about each of the 3 pieces below, separated by a quote from each play.
For those who like verbal dexterity, witty dialogue, and a play that you must pay attention to in order to appreciate, then Mr. Coward is your man. Enjoy!

“I shall always love the memory of you.”
Noel Coward was one o
rated it really liked it
Jul 31, 2013
Jan 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Hay Fever:
As with the other plays in this collection, it's fun to read if you like very light comedy, but for my taste it's too much lacking in any kind of critical import. Its humour is a bit out-of-date and it is relying heavily on the upper class social conventions of the 1920s what with all the summer residence airs, cocktails and jeunesse blasé smugness. Most of it I find annoying rather than funny.

Private Lives:
Another Noel Coward light comedy full of flippant, blaisé, young characters eng
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star, for-school, plays
Blithe Spirit- 5 stars
Hay Fever- 4 stars
Private Lives- 3 stars

Blithe Spirit, I really loved. It was a play involving ghosts and seances and the supernatural. And I just feel like it's more difficult and impressive to right something supernatural meant for the stage. I also liked the characters and their normally unlikable traits.

Hay Fever- There were a lot of characters with normal names that kept kind of switching partners without much hullabaloo, so it was kind of hard distinguishing character
Sarah Ryburn
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 continuous ...more
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: no-obligation
1) Blithe Spirit - 1941 - 4 star
Awesome story that felt very comfortable to read. The storyline and characters were very entertaining and clearly brought to life. I look forward to seeing the movie :)

2) Hay Fever - 1925 - 3 star
Quirky, fast-paced and unexpected. I don't think I fully "got it", but I really enjoyed the chaotic family dynamic. Although I'd hate to be a part of their game, it was fun to read.

3) Private Lives - 1930 - 4 star
Another quirky and entertaining tale, exploring the twisted
Terence Manleigh
“Private Lives” is a close second to "The Importance of Being Earnest" for the funniest play ever written. “Hay Fever” and “Blithe Spirit” aren’t far behind. Noel Coward was a British national treasure, the true heir of Oscar Wilde, a gay icon, and one of most prolific and multi-talented figures of 20th century popular culture. Playwright, songwriter, singer, actor, he towered in his heyday of the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s like a glamorous, epicene Colossus. These three plays are his greatest legacy ...more
Sep 15, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
I didn't enjoy Noel Coward's work as much as I thought I would. I really like comedies, but I was expecting something more along the lines of The Importance of Being Earnest, and that wasn't really the feel I got from Coward--maybe it was just my reading, but I didn't see these plays as particularly witty. The one I did enjoy though was Hay Fever, but I didn't think much of Private Lives or Blithe Spirit (and of course, Blithe Spirit is Coward's most well known play, so presumably it is generall ...more
Feb 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: drama
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) Wo ...more
Snehal Bhagat
Jan 10, 2010 rated it liked it
Within the performing arts, drama calls for the greatest suspension of disbelief, and given that audiences are willing to make the effort, it is interesting that the most successful plays seem to be those that require the least of it.

Take a bunch of witty characters, stick them in a situation and allow them to indulge in repartee - a winning formula, and one that Coward employs to good effect in the three plays here, all of which have their moments and would make for pleasurable viewing in the
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
I have seen Blithe Spirit several times and it is a wonderful play, very funny and extremely clever. I have also used this play for a Play Reading as part of a drama group, it was a delight to take part in it with a group of my friends.
The book also includes Hay Fever and Private Lives. Both plays are very silly and many times I was chuckling to myself!

I certainly recommend these to anyone looking to read plays that will bring a smile to their face!
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I knew little to nothing of Noel Coward's writing before this. He is highly sophisticated. More so, I think, than I feel I can relate to. Each play is witty in its own right, but I didn't always follow the trains of thought of many characters.

I'm still interested enough that I would like to see a live production of each of these plays.
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
My first Noel Coward, and - well, such fun! Am going to see a production of Blithe Spirit, so after reading it I'm very much looking forward to the stage version. Loved the wit and snappy dialogue, and the impossible supernatural situations. I'll read the other two plays when I've put a bit of space between readings.
Mar 22, 2009 marked it as to-read
Shelves: drama, comedy
I read "Private Lives" and was decidedly unimpressed. I pretty much actively loathed all the characters, finding them all selfish and annoying.

Then I saw the play and my opinion did a 180. Done right, this is one of the funniest and most delightful farces I've ever seen. Sometimes you really can't just rely on the book.
Oct 01, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
Why does some mathematical algorithm think that I would like this book? The internet hasn't been very good at recommending books for me that I actually like.

Noel Coward is supposed to be some master of screwball comedy. Mostly he just had crazy people yelling at each other. Blithe Spirit was mildly entertaining, but I didn't like the other two plays.
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Hank Lin
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
The lightness of Coward's satire and frivolity is so breathtaking (a tradition Neil Simon would continue), you forget his characters are monsters of addiction and betrayal. He has a master's touch (also a great lyricist!).
Jasmine Waters
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book that got me into my love of reading play scripts. All three of these plays are superbly sublime, each with their own array of infamour 'Coward' humour, with my particular favourite being Private Lives.
Jul 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
First learned about the playwright on Economist. Also learned that he wrote Private Lives at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
More spirited (and less refined or elegant) than Wilde's plays. Sometimes it reads like a romantic movie script. Might check out the movie version sometime.
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just saw Private Lives in London! Terrific play and one of his best. I was just reminded of why his plays live on and always seem fresh while set in a different period. So witty and true. Love Blithe Spirit too.
Karen S
Dec 08, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: farce
I have not seen these performed on stage (but did watch the film version of Blithe Spirit) but found them to be rather dated at this point. I didn't find them as interesting as his more substantive work (for film: In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter, That Happy Breed).
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the first two plays in this volume, although found "Private Lives" too brittle. They must be wonderful on stage. Noel Coward is perhaps more well known for his image rather than his works, but these plays all read as classics.
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Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English actor, playwright and composer of popular music. Among his achievements, he received an Academy Certificate of Merit at the 1943 Academy Awards for "outstanding production achievement for In Which We Serve."
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