Theatre review: Private Lives

Posted on: 09 March 2010 by Mark O'haire

That classic 1929 Noel Coward comedy about a love-hate relationship Private Lives is back in a newly minted, immensely enjoyable revival directed by Richard Eyre at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Glamorous, rich and reckless Elyot and Amanda have been divorced from each other for five years. Now both are honeymooning with their new spouses in the same hotel in Deauville. When by chance they meet across adjoining balconies, their insatiable feelings for each other are immediately rekindled. They are in fact two people who cannot live together, yet cannot live apart. Without a care for scandal, new partners or memories of what drove them apart in the first place, they hurl themselves headlong into love and lust…

This is no period cocktail-stick comedy but a work with a dark underside, yet displaying a rare level of tenderness and insight. It is easy to understand why this is one of Coward’s most successful and popular comedies as it defies age and has a biting wit and honesty about sexual attraction and the unpredictability of love.

Indeed this is a mature and sophisticated play which operates on many levels and contains some great comedy - I will long remember the scene in which Elyot and Amanda have a particularly heated squabble, upending furniture and finally smashing a hole in a large fish tank that sends a jet of water across the stage, yet miraculously the fish are saved - as well as great pain. A sense of thwarted desire permeates this work but the situation in which the characters find themselves always remains intensely human and real.

Director Ronald Eye draws a scene stealing performance from Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall who brings a mixture of Monroesque sexual allure, shrewdness and vulnerability to the role of Amanda, not to mention the perfect comic timing, supported by fine work all round from a deadpan Matthew MacFayden as the disreputable, grumpy Elyot and Lisa Dillon and Simon Paisley Day as their mismatched partners. The sets, lighting and music strongly evoke the mood and atmosphere of the piece.

This then is a truly polished production which hits all the right notes and of which Coward himself would have justifiably been proud.

By Laurence Green

Where: Vaudeville Theatre

When: plays until 1 May

Box Office: 0844 412 4663

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