Private Lives, Minerva Theatre, Chichester
Monday 01 October 2012
This year's Chichester season ends on a high with Jonathan Kent's wonderfully fresh, stylish and razor-sharp account of Noel Coward's finest comedy. It's the best Private Lives we have seen since Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan struck sparks off each other in the West End a decade ago.
Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor possess, as a stage duo, just about everything you need to play Elyot and Amanda, the divorcees who, five years after their split, meet on adjacent hotel balconies while on honeymoon with their new spouses.
Their sexual chemistry has a violent volatility that suggests that this is a union simultaneously hatched in heaven and in hell. The irresistible attraction rekindled in the famous balcony scene is both achingly romantic and deliciously funny here, with Toby Stephens's drawling public-schoolboy-ish Elyot strangely affecting as he succumbs to its power well in advance of Chancellor's taller, headstrong, thoroughbred Amanda, the epitome of “jagged sophistication”, who continues to fight it with brittle bravado.
Gender stereotypes are being drolly undermined so it's no wonder that Stephens lets out a long, involuntary groan of disgust when Anna Louise-Plowman's clingy, squalling Sibyl, his new bride, scuttles on in a queasily girlish pink outfit. Chancellor likewise wastes little time disguising her impatience with stuffy Victor, who, in Anthony Calf's spot-on portrayal, is all tweedy decency floundering out of its depth in a world of spoilt, incoherent egotists.
On the lips of Kent's central couple, the staccato, mannered music of Coward's decoy-like dialogue is eloquent with the troubled things that are being left unsaid. The balance between artifice and emotional realism in a comedy that sometimes feels reminiscent of Strindberg and prophetic of Edward Albee in its focused depiction of a driven love-hate relationship is beautifully achieved here thanks to the intimacy of the Minerva studio and the thrust stage that brings the escalating spats in the Parisian love-nest in the second act right down into the audience's laps.
That long, plot-less switchback in exquisitely well-paced here. As they veer between post-coital languor and apartment-smashing aggression, Stephens and Chancellor brilliantly demonstrate that, far from constituting an interruption, these fights are the continuation of intense intimacy by other means – a form of foreplay.
Flouncing around in their dressing gowns and communicating in mocking parodies whenever possible, they make you feel both a pang of envy and of gratitude that this glamorously self-dramatising, solipsistic realm is exclusive to them.
To October 27; 01234 781312
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysian cyclist could face disciplinary action after 'Save Gaza' gloves protest
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 4 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 5 Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
Fifty Shades of Grey film stills
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia