|Kim Cattrall (Amanda) & Matthew Macfadyen (Elyot)|
Review Round-up: Critics Seduced by Private Lives
Date: 4 March 2010
Noel Coward's enduringly popular comedy Private Lives has returned to the West End in a starry production led by Sex and the City siren Kim Cattrall and recent Mr Darcy Matthew Macfadyen, helmed by former NT artistic director Richard Eyre.
The play, which opened last night at the Vaudeville Theatre (See Today's 1st Night Photos), centres on divorcees Amanda (Cattrall) and Elyot (Macfadyen), who find themselves honeymooning with their new spouses in the same hotel in the South of France with dramatic (and hilarious) consequences.
The cast is completed by Lisa Dillon as Elyot’s second wife Sybil, Simon Paisley Day as Amanda's spouse Victor and Caroline Lena Olsson as French maid Louise.
Overnight critics lined up the superlatives to describe Eyre's "splendid" and "dazzlingly well-acted" revival - the first in the West End since Howard Davies' multi-award winning 2001 production. Cattrall was deemed "dangerous", "miraculous" and a "vision to behold" as Amanda, while Macfadyen didn't come out too badly either - even if in some quarters he was found "too blokish" and "unusual" in the role of Elyot. The support of Paisley Day's mustachioed Victor and Dillon's "hideously priggish" Sybil was also roundly praised.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - “At first, the audience thinks Kim Cattrall has withered inside herself. But this pinched, slightly hunched pretty blonde woman is not Kim, but Lisa Dillon, superbly well cast as Elyot Chase’s second wife, Sybil ... Matthew MacFadyen's sullen, heavily built Elyot is not happy ... only when Kim Cattrall does appear, shimmering with malice and sexuality, dressed in a white towel, does he cheer up. Simon Paisley Day’s hilariously bovine Victor ... is the absolute personification of a knitted eyebrow ... It’s one of the great virtues of Richard Eyre’s clever, fast-moving production ... that Victor and Sybil will, you feel, one day enjoy hating each other as much as do Elyot and Amanda. There have not been that many outstanding revivals of Private Lives since Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens tore strips off each other, but this one has a freshness and elan that still takes you by surprise and honours both the musicality of Coward’s perfect prose and his brittle humanity. ”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “[Noël Coward] was surprisingly self-deprecating about Private Lives (1930), surely the greatest of all his plays ... Watching Richard Eyre's terrific new production one can only marvel at his modesty. Eighty years on this remarkable comedy about love, lust, and marriage still seems both miraculously fresh and remarkably frank. Mind you, Private Lives demands performances of an exceptionally high order if it is to fly ... But here the sparks really fly. Cattrall is a vision to behold, at ease in her body, and miraculously combining vulnerability with sharp wit ... Matthew Macfadyen has more than a touch of the brutish bully about him ... And there are delicious supporting performances from Simon Paisley Day as Amanda's betrayed husband Victor ... and from Lisa Dillon as the horribly irritating, hideously priggish Sybil. Wonderfully funny and fabulously sexy, Private Lives has lost none of its allure.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent (four stars) - “Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen display an onstage chemistry that works like a volatile charm in Richard Eyre's exhilaratingly funny revival of ... Private Lives.With her tossed blonde curls and barbed flightiness, Cattrall’s a delight ... she’s got very good comic timing and demonstrates a winning flair for emotional slapstick. Escaping entirely from the highly strung, slightly queeny stock portrayal of Elyot, Macfadyen is all the funnier for being so meatily masculine and solid a presence, with an accent that seems to mock its own port-wine plumminess. Rob Howell’s set for the Paris apartment is as hilarious as it is handsome ... Lisa Dillon as Sibyl marvellously progresses from fretful, insecure pest to a woman veering between vestigial decorum and paroxysms of a new septic self-assertion. Simon Paisley Day’s Victor behaves as though he emerged from the womb ramrod-backed and with an officious pipe soldered to his lower lip. Eyre’s splendid production alerts you anew to the fact that Private Lives is a dazzling feat of airborne comic dramaturgy.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) – “This is a classy revival, expertly staged by Richard Eyre, of Coward's enduring comedy about the proximity of love and violence. But, while it will give pleasure, the partnership of Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen as Amanda and Elyot never struck me as hatched in some ante-room of heaven. Cattrall ... is actually very good as Amanda ... she brings out the inviolable selfhood that, for Coward, was a vital part of sexual attraction ... Macfadyen's Elyot is more unusual. Avoiding the staccato delivery and camp one associates with the character, he presents us with a testy bully irresistibly drawn to Amanda while finding her impossible. But there is a sanity about Macfadyen which doesn't quite square with Elyot's espousal of flippancy as a way of life. Paisley Day finds a complete character in Victor, bringing out the raging hysteria behind the suburban stuffiness. And he is well partnered by Lisa Dillon, who highlights the obstinacy behind Sibyl's seeming fluffiness ... It is a clever, funny production that certainly hits the spot.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - "Actress Kim Cattrall almost completely sheds her identity as 'that vamp from TV's Sex and the City' ... to play Bohemian, dangerous, irresistible Amanda in Noel Coward's enduring comedy. This is a gorgeous, glorious production of Private Lives, just bitchy enough to be modern, yet old-fashioned enough to have a three-part form. Miss Cattrall, elegant in flowing gowns and bare feet ... produces a not quite faultless English accent ... but as Elyot says in one of the play's many memorable lines, 'don't quibble, Sybil'. All four principals are superb. Mr Macfadyen's Elyot is greedily nonchalant about other people's feelings. Miss Dillon's Sybil is eminently divorceable on the grounds of simpering dullness. And Mr Paisley Day, in the least obviously fruitful role, is a scream as Victor, his divided, toothbrush moustache twitching with pomposity.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times - "Eyre isn’t in the habit of bringing dinky paper boats to the stage, and thanks to him and his lead actors you can’t miss the play’s unassuming point and purpose. Shallow? At times perhaps, but wilfully and defiantly so ... And in any case, flippancy is pretty clearly one way of coping with what’s really serious in the play, which is love itself ... you never doubt their (Catrall and Macfayden) bond ... his wit has bite, and she combines allure with the mulishness of a woman who knows her own mind as well as her own body ... Lisa Dillon’s Sybil gives a nice performance as the sort of twee, clutchy woman bound to irritate a man like Elyot, and Simon Paisley Day’s Victor is even more gloriously unsuitable: a bloke whose accent, tweeds, moustache and ultra-decent manner all suggest he’s auditioning for the role of a squadron leader in some fearfully British B-movie.”
Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (four stars) - " Noel Coward's comedy calls for a mixture of turbulence and dry urbanity, and Richard Eyre's finely calibrated production of Private Lives exhibits just the right blend of these qualities. In the key roles,Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen have what might blithely be termed chemistry ... Macfadyen ... gives a performance that’s a mix of steely detachment and waspish repartee. It’s a primer in tart comic timing, and his voice proves an impressively pliable instrument. Cattrall conveys an arch playfulness and a good deal of flighty yet vulnerable glamourt ... As Victor, Simon Paisley Day is a study in anxious pomposity ... while Lisa Dillon’s Sybil makes a pleasing transition from paltry ornament to spiky social critic. Rob Howell’s design is gorgeous ... Although it begins on an unexpectedly passive note, this is a satisfying and intelligently conceived production. It’s fluent, very funny and at times dazzlingly well-acted.”
Paul Callan in the Daily Express - "In many ways, this is Noel Coward at his most polished and sophisticated and this is where this production occasionally falters. Matthew Macfadyen is rather too masculine, too blokish to deliver some of Coward's more fey lines. It is a particularly high camp play, with fussy rhythms and delightfully funny lines that really need a gossamer touch. But, that apart, both Cattrall and Macfadyen catch the exact spirit of the warring couple. Lisa Dillon is neatly irritating as Elyot's new, child-like bride Sybil. And there is a masterly performance by Simon Paisley Day as Amanda's blusterin new husband Victor. Director Richard Eyre gives the play a splendid pace, with all the emphases in the right places. It may all sound a trifle dated, but The Master's work still has fresh and hilarious appeal.”
- Theo Bosanquet & Melissa Rynn
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