Review Round-Up: Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor in Private Lives transfer
Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Noel Coward's Private Lives opened at the Gielgud Theatre last night (3 July 2013). Starring Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor, it runs until 21 September
…Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor play it to perfection at the Gielgud and do so, most impressively, in the vivid and immediate present… And of course it's so brilliantly funny you hardly have time to catch your breath as Jonathan Kent's production batters at your twin reactions of delight and disapproval… Here's one thing, though: Toby doesn't play the piano (it's a fuzzy soundtrack) and Anna doesn't sing, both essential prerequisites for their roles… Aside from that, the play skitters on its merry way like an uncoiled stretch of barbed wire… But even the straight couple quarrels, as the curtain descends on a new chapter in these noisy private lives, leaving Sue Kelvin's roly-poly French maid (more complicatedly verbose in this version) to butter her own brioches and tidy up the debris.
…In this deliciously fresh revival Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens bring a lovely chemistry to Noël Coward's comedy of manners… Chancellor serves up a mix of imperious elegance and bohemian weariness, with more than the odd touch of slinky danger. Stephens switches deftly from villainous virility to a clown's extravagance, and from petulance to a suave drawl… I can't recall having seen him give a better performance than he does here… Anna-Louise Plowman and Anthony Calf lend appealing support… Credit must also go to Anthony Ward for his design… Jonathan Kent's assured production is remarkably brisk, lasting under two hours – it could comfortably be played without an interval. First seen at Chichester last year, it's another success for that West Sussex powerhouse.
…Here however the chemistry proves spectacularly combustible… the sense of unbuttoned intimacy and desire between Anna Chancellor's Amanda and Toby Stephens's Elyot proves even stronger… throughout the performances feel fresh-minted. There is a real edge of danger about Stephens's vulpine Elyot… Anna Chancellor meanwhile plays Amanda with a sensual, slightly raddled glamour, her wit and bohemian extravagance often seeming like a defence mechanism against the knowledge that she is growing old… The great central act… is staged with virtuosic panache and invention by Kent, and brilliantly played by the two leads… Anthony Calf and Anna-Louise Plowman play them with distinction, the one hilariously pompous, the other a ghastly moaning Minnie. This is a gloriously entertaining evening, opulently designed by Anthony Ward, and offering two hours of comic bliss.
…Anna Chancellor's rangy thoroughbred Amanda is thrilling… Toby Stephens never quite manages Elyot's louche charm… it appears to have mislaid some sparkle on the journey to London. The combustible chemistry between Chancellor and Stephens is elusive… Like Anthony Ward's slinky art deco designs, the emotions are just a little too handsome and elegant… The lack of raw passion might not matter so much if Kent's production had the lightness of touch to get away with it, but after a sublimely delicate first act, he loses his hold on the comedy... It's all reasonable frolicsome fun, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this Amanda and Elyot may eventually settle down for a quiet life in the suburbs.
…this dazzling, razor-sharp revival… The 'secret' of its success, as they say, is plain to see in the almost indecently natural and combustible chemistry between Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor as divorcees Elyot and Amanda… Chancellor and Stephens brilliantly chart the couple's volatile mood-swings… You'd be tempted, at moments, to describe it as Strindberg-with-slapstick, but the actors also bring a warmth and likeability to the shenanigans… These qualities persist into the deliciously played final act where, amidst the debris of the morning after, Chancellor's Amanda assumes a hilariously infuriating manner of bright social graciousness as she dispenses coffee to the people whose lives have been ruined and Anthony Calf's splendidly stuffy and unimaginative Victor jumps at the word "brioche" as though he's thinks it might be a blasphemy against the British Empire. Bliss; go.
…Transplanted to West End splendour, Jonathan Kent's production (and Anthony Ward's golden design) polish up still brighter… the joy of Kent's production is that without self-parody it is head-clutchingly funny, provoking helpless snorts of mirth even with single words. Notably "Brioche", "Canada!" and "God!". This last explodes from Elyot on the balcony, when he has sighted Amanda, lush in plain velvet, and turns to see Sibyl's hilariously fussy dinner frock. The costumes do great work throughout: when Amanda shrinks from Victor's masterfully depressing tweed waistcoat, women over forty shudder. We've all been there.