It seems no time at all since the last West End production of Noël Coward‘s Private Lives. Turns out it’s just over 3 years. If it hadn’t been for that production (starring Kim Cattrall) the Whingers would probably never have seen Love Never Dies – well not in preview at least – and look what that led to. It’s a long story, you should ask us about it one day…
So another Private Lives then, yet another transfer from Chichester and another chance to see the divorced couple Elyot (Toby Stephens) and Amanda (Anna Chancellor) sparring on their adjoining Deauville hotel balconies where they’re spending the first nights of their honeymoons with their new spouses, Sibyl and Victor (Anthony Calf).
What really makes this a PL of note is the chemistry between Stephens and Chancellor. Strange really as Sibyl is played by Anna-Louise Plowman who is Stephens’ wife in real life and Elyot’s indifference to Sibyl seems apparent from the kick off, which shows (we hope) that he’s doing proper acting. Shame they couldn’t have made it a real family affair and found a part for Stephens’ mother. The only role left for her would be a brief appearance as the cranky French maid (here played enjoyably grumpily by Sue Kelvin). But we’d settle for that if Dame Maggie were up for a cameo. We’re still trying to imagine having her as a mother-in-law.
But another notable aspect of Johnathan Kent‘s production is how fast it is. Has it been cut? It lasts a peppy 1 hour 55 minutes (including interval) and could easily have been played straight through in 1 hour 35 minutes, especially as the big scene change happens before our very eyes. The shuttered windows fly, the balconies revolve to reveal a very sumptuously appointed flat in Paris (design Anthony Ward). Amanda describes it as her ‘small flat in Paris’. In the unlikely event she ever did a proper day’s work in her life it clearly wasn’t an estate agent.
Amanda and Elyot realise they should never have split up, escape their honeymoons and new partners and decamp to her apartment where they, spoon, bicker and smash the place up. Stephens and Chancellor play it to the hilt. When the former wears a nervous smile he looks uncannily like Hugh Grant, the latter looks as if she’s stepped straight out of an H. E. Bateman cartoon (oops, thought that at a previous PL, hopefully your memories are as bad as ours). They’re a self-obsessed, selfish, silly couple yet utterly delightful to watch.
If only the Whingers’ spats were this entertaining. Perhaps the Whingers should adopt a code as these two do. They stop arguing for one minute if one of them uses the words “Solomon Isaacs”, which is then abbreviated to “sollocks”. What should we use? Alan Bennett, Jenny Seagrove or Rory Kinnear reduced to a snappier “Annette”, “jove” or “rear”? Maybe Drury Lane could become “drain”. No doubt Andrew would just truncate Harold Pinter to “crap”.
This is Coward’s equivalent of Hamlet. It’s the one with all the quotes. Who can ever tire of hearing “Very flat, Norfolk” or the decidedly dodgy one about women and gongs?
Calf and Plowman lend splendid support Chancellor and Stephens are hilariously funny, never more so than in awkward breakfast towards the end and their silent last few minutes. If, like us, you’re not suffering Private Lives overload (3 productions in 4 years) this is probably one for you. Either way it’s still rollocking (or should that be sollocksing?) fun.