Private Lives

Noël Coward

Vaudeville Theatre

(2010)

Review by Philip Fisher

For anyone desiring 2¼ hours of sophisticated pleasure, Sir Richard Eyre's revival of Private Lives will take some beating.

It will do the box office no harm that the hoardings can boast the names of Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen with their popular followings, but the play and this revival easily live up to the hype on their own.

All eyes and ears were on Miss Cattrall at an opening night attended not only by a stream of theatrical luminaries but also Neil and Glenys Kinnock. The eyes were ravished by the ageless Sex and the City diva, although any British ears will have picked up on a regular transatlantic twang breaking into Amanda's cut glass English upper class accent.

The story is timeless. Elyot Chase and his ex-wife Amanda serendipitously find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms while trying to enjoy second honeymoons with patently unsuitable spouses.

They have clearly decided that fiery, witty types do not work after the hellish experience together and ended up with the dim, worthy but well-matched Sibyl and Victor.

It is all to the director's credit, as well as the actors, that these two come out with distinctive personalities, rather than as the usual ciphers.

At half the size of her stage husband, Lisa Dillon's Sibyl makes up for lack of bulk or height with steadfast determination in the face of great provocation.

Simon Paisley Day as her self-important counterpart is the archetypal stiff upper lip Englishman who has had any intelligence driven out by the end of his public school education. In the third act, he becomes something a caricature of himself but even that just enhances the comedy.

The main focus inevitably rests on Elyot and Amanda. The alluring Miss Cattrall gives the latter a glamorous film star image in both looks (enhanced by a fine and varied array of costumes starting with a white bath towel) and temperament. She sometimes seems to try too hard but slightly accentuated performance works well in the part, surely winning over even hardened cynics with a dislike of big TV names imported to sell West End plays.

Costume drama favourite Macfadyen portrays Elyot as a big lumbering man, with a wicked sense of humour bubbling just below the lugubrious surface, who reins in expression as much as his leading lady capitalises on hers.

This works best when little more than a raised eyebrow speaks volumes in the lead-up to a pitched battle that wrecks a stunning, circular Parisian apartment designed to perfection by Rob Howell.

Howell takes the turquoise colour from the hotel balcony in Act One and creates an artistic delight, complete with a glorious mural, silver piano and triple-decker goldfish bowl that takes on a character of its own when attacked.

The laughs ring out from start to finish but, in this production, there is also a chance to examine the characters of all four of these mismatched people. By the end, you fully understand why Elyot and Amanda can neither live with or without each other and how they have unintentionally used the unfortunate younger couple.

With the star names, tickets will be at a premium but anyone who gets the chance to see this 80th anniversary revival of a not so modern classic should grab it with both hands. They will not be disappointed.

Visit our sponsor 1st 4 London Theatre to book tickets for Private Lives