Review: Private Lives, Vaudeville

“I believe in being kind to everyone, giving money to old beggar women and being as gay as possible”

I have been known to stop many a party in its tracks, anyone who has witnessed my karaoke turn on No More Tears (Enough is Enough) will attest to that, and when recently asked at a do whether I was an Amanda or an Elyot and I didn’t know what I was being asked, the collective jaw of the party dropped. For I have never seen Private Lives before, but fortuitously for my reputation that evening, I could say that I did have tickets for the new production arriving in London, after a short run in Bath.

Noël Coward’s play is about a couple, Elyot and Amanda who hate each other intensely yet love each other passionately and so divorced. Chance conspires to bring them together again though, as they both celebrate their honeymoons with new partners in adjacent rooms in the same French hotel. And despite all their history, they launch headfirst into a new affair, regardless of the situation. And it is all very funny. 

Promoted as a star vehicle, featuring Kim Cattrall and Matthew MacFadyen as Amanda and Elyot as it does, it also features not one but two fosterIAN™ nominated actors in the supporting roles of Victor and Sybil, in Simon Paisley Day and Lisa Dillon. And in casting so strongly throughout, one ends up enthralled by all four lovers, resulting in a highly satisfying production and a nicely judged balance to proceedings.

Cattrall is just sensational as Amanda, richly funny and entirely convincing as a woman who could tempt away a man from his new wife, she initially appears in just a towel and her body is banging I tell ya! Her accent was excellent, slipping just a couple of times in the tumultuous second act understandably, and her performance was filled with a great emotional warmth: I was altogether very impressed with her. MacFadyen matched her though, with his waspish delivery of some great zingers, some nifty piano-playing and unafraid to show some vulnerability beneath the suave, disaffected, handsome exterior. And together they display great chemistry, turning on a dime from pure comedy to impassioned anger, from sexual energy to gentle crooning over the piano, I totally bought them as a couple who couldn’t live without each other, yet drove each other up the wall.

In the supporting roles of the aggrieved spouses, Paisley Day and Dillon are also excellent, which it was elevates this show to greatness. Their senstive portrayals tread the right line between farcical comedy and genuine emotion so that one can still care for them and what happens to them, whilst still rooting for Elyot and Amanda. Lisa Dillon in particular is a great talent and I predict big things for her.

Rob Howell’s set design is brilliant: the opening louvred balcony is pretty, but the Paris apartment is a sight to behold. A circular room, sumptuously dressed with the requisite grand piano and a range of details, many of which, bed, light fittings, fishbowls, seats are also circular, a nice stylistic touch that is most appealing to the eye and suggestive of the endless cycle in which Amanda and Elyot find themselves. Costumes are also top-notch, Cattrall’s dark blue suit that she ends up in is gorgeous, and I rather coveted MacFadyen’s dapper silk pyjamas.
So highly recommended all around, if only because it restored my spirits after a couple of real duds. The only criticism I have is of the ticket prices, I was lucky enough to pick up a deal from but current cheapest tickets are £25 which is a lot and a lot of seats are £50: I do worry if they might not have priced themselves out of the market, despite the sheer quality of what is on offer here.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with an interval after the first act, so 45 minutes or so into it)
Programme cost: £3.50

5 thoughts on “Review: Private Lives, Vaudeville

  1. I may have been slightly hypnotised by "Tom from Spooks"' hairy chest and trying to work out whether some goldfish had been murdered or not, but having checked my notebook, it finished at 4.45 after a slightly late 2.30 start.

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