by Noel Coward.

Vaudeville Theatre 404 Strand WC2R 0NH.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm, Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval + one pause.

Tickets: 0870 830 0200/0844 579 1975.
Review: Carole Woddis 10 March 2010.

Serious comedy with a chill at its heart.
Considering Private Lives is regarded as a modern comedy classic, it’s remarkable how dark and cruel it is. Almost a decade ago, Howard Davies’ production with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan revealed just how dangerous it could be. The wonder is that Richard Eyre’s co-Bath Theatre, Duncan Weldon, Paul Elliott and Sonia Friedman backed revival finds a similar sinister quality in the invective thrown about between Kim Cattrall’s and Matthew Macfadyen’s hedonistic lovers, Amanda and Elyot.

Macfadyen, in particular, is menacingly detached. I’ve never seen Elyot played with such violent ferocity. Bemused by his attraction to Cattrall’s Amanda – whose invective sometimes matches his own – Elyot’s world-weariness is frighteningly chill. Like a man becalmed, Macfadyen lets us see that his manufactured flippancy in fact hides any real incapacity to care or truly love. ‘Heartless’ barely begins to describe the flintiness he conveys.

For someone who made her name on the other side of the water in the American soap Sex and the City, Cattrall’s mercurial Amanda is a revelation – warm, kittenish and coyly vulnerable one moment, goading and provoking the next. And her English accent is well-nigh perfect.

But then Richard Eyre’s production catches the period in almost every respect – excepting the opening balcony scene which looks uncomfortably cramped. Rob Howell’s otherwise brilliantly cocoon-like set with its giant goldfish bowls (with real fish) and low oriental divans graphically expresses this 30s glamour-puss couple who, disastrously incompatible and sexually intense, have sealed themselves off from the rest of the world.

Eyre’s punctilious eye for detail also helps to reveal Coward’s clipped repartee as a disguise for emotional inner volcanoes. The row which ends Act Two is a classic all of its own.

Beside them, Simon Paisley Day and Lisa Dillon are glorious embodiments of well-meaning but limited conventionality. Day is particularly fine, frozen in tweedy outrage. Eyre’s other great achievement is to cleverly underline the damage inflicted on others by the main protagonists’ selfishness (shades of Coward’s later Hay Fever and Edward Albee’s much later Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) whilst unearthing an even deeper malaise.

Sybil: Lisa Dillon.
Elyot: Matthew Macfadyen.
Victor: Simon Paisley Day.
Amanda: Kim Cattrall.
Maid: Caroline Lena Olsson.

Director: Richard Eyre.
Designer: Rob Howell.
Lighting: David Howe.
Sound: Jason Barnes.
Musical arranger: Matthew Scott.
Choreographer: Scarlett Mackmin.
Fight director: Alison De Burgh.
Assistant director: Lotte Wakeham.
Design associate: Megan Rouse.

2010-03-14 23:40:21

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