Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen display an onstage chemistry that works like a volatile charm in Richard Eyre's exhilaratingly funny, expertly orchestrated and wittily designed revival of the Noël Coward comedy classic Private Lives.
It's been said of the great dance partnership between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that he gave her class and she gave him sex. What, though, of Amanda and Elyot, the divorcées who, unable to live either together or apart, meet – after five years – on adjoining hotel balconies in Deauville while on honeymoon with their stuffy second spouses and abscond to Paris? This pair are arguably such exotic birds of a feather that it would make more sense to say that, rather than any attribute, he'd be liable to give her a black eye and she to give him a near-coronary (and vice versa).
One of the delights of this revival is how pointedly Eyre brings out the fact that Elyot and Amanda are not a coded gay couple in semi-drag but Coward's waspishly perceptive take on a passionately heterosexual relationship. In the long-shot of theatre, you'd swear that the two actors are of the same vintage, right from the moment when Cattrall first appears on the hotel balcony clad only in a snowy white beach towel. With her tossed blonde curls and barbed flightiness, she's a delight. True, you're sometimes aware of her strain in maintaining a posh 1930s English accent (it can feel like watching someone trying to flounce down a high-wire) but she's got very good comic timing and has 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 in a manner that reminded me, at times, of Michael Gambon. Playing the bitchy off the butch gives a lovely unfussed, goading aplomb to the character's drop-dead put-downs. In the great second scene, where Elyot and Amanda lounge around post-coitally in their respective lingerie, the actors brilliantly show the escalating violence constitutes a kind of mutual mounting protest at the irritable boredom of soul-mate perfection.
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