“Are you glad you got married to me?”
As is proving de rigueur for many a Chichester show, last year’s production of Private Lives makes the leap into the West End, sashaying with its silk pyjamas into the Gielgud Theatre for the summer. I made the trip to the Minerva Theatre to see the show as the chance of seeing Anna Chancellor on stage is not one that one should really turn down and my review can be read here – I liked the production immensely but can’t help but feel that I don’t really need to see this play again -for me, it turns out Coward is a playwright who is not standing up to repeated viewings. But throw a good deal my way and my intentions go out the window – Time Out were offering dress circle seats for a tenner and so I just couldn’t resist.
And I pretty much felt the same second time around. Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens are truly excellently cast as the dangerously dynamic duo Amanda and Elyot, a divorced couple whose chance meeting as they both honeymoon with new partners pulls them back into the vortex of their passion which is somehow simultaneously self-destructive and enduring. Chancellor slinks around Anthony Ward’s handsomely appointed set with the elegance of a panther, her feline seductiveness quick to turn fearsome the moment she doesn’t get her own way. And Stephens makes Elyot a unreconstructed public schoolboy, full of bluffness and a near-childish sense of humour as he turns to acerbically mock everyone around him.
And as their partners – Anna-Louise Plowman radiates a shrill sweetness as the hapless Sybil but Anthony Calf’s Victor is just superb – his utterance of the word ‘brioche’ as if it were the most heinous accusation in the world is brilliant and he perfectly nails the dull dependency that many would settle for even if it never makes their heart race. The final scene when these two come into their own is wonderfully played, especially with Chancellor and Stephens watching with delighted glee from the sidelines, their wordless acting is a thrill to behold.
The only reservation comes with the play itself, or rather the treatments I have seen. I do like Coward, and Elyot and Amanda offer a wonderful opportunity for two quality actors to really go for it hammer and tongs, but the way in which his plays are always so firmly rooted in a particular time and place robs them of any innovative excitement. You know exactly what you are going to get with a production of Coward’s work here, and that might well be the intention especially in these risk-averse times, but it just doesn’t make the heart beat as fast as it could.