Private Lives @ Vaudeville Theatre, London

cast list
Kim Cattrall, Matthew Macfadyen, Lisa Dillon, Simon Paisley Day, Caroline Lena Olsson

directed by
Richard Eyre
Beneath the thick varnish of wit theres something dark at the heart of Noel Cowards most famous comedy.

The central relationship between Amanda and Elyot is tempestuous to the point of violence. Theirs is a destructive, hungry passion that threatens to pull them both down with it, yet being Coward all this is couched in a particularly effervescent brand of humour, a deceptively light-hearted veneer.

Richard Eyres production is as slick and sharp as one would expect, though this is a play that, more than most, relies on the chemistry between the two leads. Fortunately that chemistry is there, even though Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfayden make an initially unlikely pairing.
Five years after their marriage ended in divorce Amanda and Elyot find themselves occupying adjacent rooms in a French hotel. Awkward enough, but made far worse by the fact that both happen to be on their honeymoons with their new spouses. This glorious coincidence initially causes them a spark of alarm, but in the space of time it takes to drink a cocktail, they find their attraction to one another resurfacing and promptly decide to run off together to Paris.

Once in Paris, holed up in Amandas stylish apartment, it is easy to see that this is a couple who love and hate one another in equal measure. One minute theyre caressing on her sofa, the next shes haranguing him about his drinking. They reconcile and end up singing together at the piano but he is soon taking offence at some innocuous comment of hers. This volatility results in an inevitable explosion in which they turn the very many pretty trinkets and whatnots in her apartment into missiles and weapons. Records are smashed, ornaments flung not even the goldfish are safe.

The scene is performed with commitment and energy, neither Cattrall nor Macfadyen hold back, and thanks to some excellent choreography, it is very funny in a worrying kind of way. It also serves to demonstrate just how destructive their relationship is.

Despite her wavering cut glass accent, Cattrall doesnt quite shake off the shadow of Samantha from Sex and the City. Amanda gives the impression of being in control yet shes also complicit in this warped union. She permits Elyot to behave like a beast and, as played by Macfadyen, he is particularly beastly. Distancing himself from more effete past portrayals of the role, his is a very masculine and oppressive Elyot. Theres also something slightly sad about him and its easy to envisage him in his later years, puce nosed and gouty, with a cruel tongue and a quick hand.

Playing opposite these two are Lisa Dillon, as the weedy, needy Sybil, and Simon Paisley Day as the poker-straight Victor. The latter is particularly effective: twitchy, bemused and very, very English. He cant quite seem to believe what hes seeing and hearing. This behavior is entirely alien to him and he simply cant process it; he simmers like a pan on the heat, close to boiling over. Paisley Day doesnt exactly steal his scenes but he puts up a very good fight, almost literally at one point. The play ends with him berating the unfortunate Sybil while Amanda and Elyot slink away to their rather dubious future together.

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