Theatre; CURTAIN CALLS

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The Independent Culture
In addition to pursuing an impossibly glamorous social life, Noel Coward (above) managed a little scribbling in his spare time: literally hundreds of songs, plus short stories, poems, and a staggering 53 plays. This being his centenary year, there are revivals of everything you can think of - hold tight for Declan Donnellan's forthcoming Hay Fever - and plenty you can't, like After the Ball, his musical adaptation of Lady Windermere's Fan, the original version of which receives a one-night world premiere at the Covent Garden Opera Festival.

His theatrical master-piece is the deliriously funny, exquisitely painful Private Lives. In the original 1930s production, Coward starred as Elyot, who runs into his ex-wife Amanda (Gertrude Lawrence) when they are both on their second honeymoons. Julie Andrews played snippets of Amanda in the bizarre Lawrence biopic Star!, and in the 1970s, Maggie Smith was captivating in the role. Two years ago, Abigail Thaw was simply mesmerising opposite Simon Robson in Mike Alfreds' magnificent revival for Method and Madness. And now? Juliet Stevenson. Though not an obvious casting, she certainly has the depth and control for so demanding and delicious a role.

`After the Ball', Peacock Theatre, WC2 (0171-413 1410) 27 May

`Private Lives', in preview, National Theatre, SE1 (0171-452 3000)

David Benedict

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