Theatre review: Private Lives - Jonathan Kent's rendition of Coward's masterpiece is the best in a decade
Gielgud Theatre, London
Thursday 04 July 2013
West End transfers from Chichester have become practically a matter of course during Jonathan Church's remarkably rich and fertile regime there and the latest production to make the leap from Sussex to Shaftesbury Avenue is this dazzling, razor-sharp revival of Private Lives which began life at the Minerva studio last September.
Seeing Jonathan Kent's production for a second time confirms me in the view that this is the best account of Coward's masterpiece since Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan struck sparks off each other in the West End more than a decade ago.
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.
From the moment they lay startled eyes on one another on the adjoining balconies of the Riviera hotel where they are both honeymooning with new spouses, the atmosphere crackles with sexual electricity. The last word in “jagged sophistication” as she stretches languorous white limbs in her dark emerald evening gown, Chancellor's Amanda is the sleek, imperious big cat in glaring contrast to Anna-Louise Plowman's whiningly kittenish Sibyl so it's no wonder that when the latter surfaces in a girly-pink marabou-feathered outfit, Stephens's captivatingly public schoolboyish and bad-tempered Elyot buries his face in his hands and lets out an involuntary groan of despair.
Championing bohemian flightiness over bourgeois responsibility, the play is also an acute study of the kind of egoisme a deux where two demanding, highly strung people find it impossible to live either together or apart. As they flounce around the art deco Parisian love nest in their dressing gowns, Chancellor and Stephens brilliantly chart the couple's volatile mood-swings between y smoochy intimacy and fiercely irritated sexual jealousy, and between archly parodic self-dramatising and murderous, punch-throwing rage.
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 which here include Chancellor's absurd, retaliatory dance to a record of The Rite of Spring and Stephens' distraught howl into cushion during a negotiated two minutes of silence.
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.
To 21 September; 0207 400 1257
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
- 2 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
- 3 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
Suicide Squad's Margot Robbie: Jared Leto's now more petrifying when out of his Joker make-up
Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, to be published in UK
The Girl in the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz, review: Stieg Larsson's heroes return in a thrilling new intrigue
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs