The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Private Lives

- London's Sizzling Revival of Private Lives Comes to Broadway

There's always a niggling worry that a hit in London's West End will lose something during a transatlantic journey (a recent example, the musical Oklahoma!). But not to worry. The production of Private Lives that so delighted our London critic, Lizzie Loveridge, has landed at the Richard Rodgers with everything and everyone satisfactorily in place.

As Lizzie pointed out, Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman give fresh feeling to the Coward wit. In doing so they let us see a sense of realistic awareness beneath the brittleness , that was not plumbed in any of a number of other Private Lives I've seen. Unlike the last seen Broadway versions (Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins/Simon Jones) that almost made me swear off another encounter with Elyot and Amanda, this revival is not gimmicky in terms of casting or interpretation. My faith in the play's durability is restored and I now understand why it had Lizzie in a tizzy.

If Coward and his original stage mate, Gertrude Lawrence, could watch just one performance from wherever they are, they would undoubtedly give Duncan and Rickman a rousing ovation. Granted, neither is a singer or a dancer, but when they do the Peabody and hum-sing bits of " If Love Were All" and "Somewhere I'll Find You" you don't need vocal or choreographic perfection to catch the emotional and physical spark between two people who were as Amanda puts it "ridiculously over in love" -- and still are.

Elyot and Amanda also remain ridiculously purposeless, without vocation or avocation to go with the verbal agility that could assure them a place with the Bloomsbury set or at the Algonquin Roundtable of which Coward was an honorary member. Their credo, as Elyot puts it is: "Let's be superficial and pity the poor philosophers. Let's blow trumpets and squeakers and enjoy the party as much as we can, like very small, quite idiotic school children." Instead they are ruled by their jaundiced view of life. Despite the ennui and disillusion driving them to be " figures of fun", Private Lives remains above all true to Coward's lifelong commitment to the theater as a place in which to be entertained.

Howard Davies, who officiated at their Les Liaisons Dangereuses stage union, has once again proved that Duncan's 30s cover girl beauty and elegance and Rickman's sardonic dash make for a match made in theatrical heaven. Fortunately he has also invited the excellent original supporting cast and design team to this wedding. That includes the spectacular dual set -- the remarkable multi-tiered wedding cake hotel that seems to be toppling even before the two pairs of newlyweds have begun their honeymoon; the set's turnaround with Amanda's Paris apartment now tilting inward and bathed in a warm sexy red.

If there's anything that probably doesn't work as well in the play's Broadway home, it's the sound, something which should be fixable before the play moves too much further into its run. From my vantage point in the middle of the orchestra, I noticed several people in my row and at least five rows nearer the stage cupping their ears to better catch the words. I also overheard comments about not being able to hear every line during the intermission. Even though Rickman and Duncan are both potent physical actors, Coward's dialogue is too good to miss even a single bon mot such as: Elyot's deliciously sexist "Some women should be struck regularly, like gongs" and Amanda's "etraordinary how potent cheap music is" and her open to interpretation "I think very few people are completely normal, really, deep down in their private lives."

Finally, a note for trivia fans. According to Coward's friend, biographer and estate executor, Graham Payn, Amanda was actually based in part on Doris Delvigne, a glamorous figure of 1920s society whose brief marriage to Lord Castlerosse was far from tranquil. According to Payn when Lady Kenmore congratulated Coward and Lawrence backstage but said that "those quarrels and rolling around on the floor" all seemed quite unreal, Coward retorted "You obviously don't know the Castlerosses."

Blithe Spirit
Easy Virtue
Suite In 2 Keys
Present Laughter
Tonight at 8:30 Part A
Tonight at 8:30 Part B

Waiting In The Wings

Private Lives
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Howard Davies Starring: Alan Rickman, Lindsay Duncan
With: Emma Fielding, Adam Godley, Alex Belcourt
Set Design: Tim Hatley
Costume Design: Jenny Beavan
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound: John Leonard
Music by Paddy Cuneen
Running time: Two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission
Richard Rodgers, 226 W. 46th St. 212/307-4100
4/19/02-9/08/02; opening 4/28/02.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm --$20 - $75.

---Our Original London Review by Lizzie Loveridge
Don't quibble, Sybil  
--- Elyot
Private Lives, the tale of the couple who cannot live together nor can they live without each other, is probably Noel Coward's most popular play. It is the one I remember first seeing whilst I was still at school but Howard Davies' new production gives us a very different kind of Coward for the twenty-first century. Davies' interpretation is more naturalistic and less mannered. We still know that we are watching a period piece but this is not passé. It is sheer erotic comedy, as delicious as it is sharp, after all, Coward subtitled Private Lives, an Intimate Comedy. I think this production of Private Lives will go very near the top, if not actually to the top of my most enjoyed plays of 2001.

Alan Rickman, who was disappointed and disappointing in the Royal National Theatre's production of Antony and Cleopatra,here shows how suited he is to playing Coward on stage, how he can deliver those cynical and sardonic lines with aplomb. Teamed up as he is with the luminescent Lindsay Duncan, repeating their partnership from a few years back in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, this pairing crackles with sexuality. Coward wrote the parts of Elyot and Amanda for himself and Gertrude Lawrence. The delivery now is so very different from Coward's own upper class, stiff upper lip, staccato, British, clipped accents that it gives a fresh feeling to his eternal wit.

The situation is this. Five years after their marriage has ended in divorce Amanda and Elyot find themselves on their honeymoon to new partners in the same hotel in Deauville, their rooms having an adjoining balcony. Elyot (Alan Rickman) is there with his bride, the naïve Sybil (Emma Fielding) and Amanda's (Lindsay Duncan) spouse is the priggish Victor Prynne (Adam Godley). Elyot and Amanda realise that they are still in love and decamp to Amanda's apartment in Paris where after a romantic interlude of a few hours the cracks start to reappear in their relationship. They are pursued to Paris by irate and indignant, Sybil and Victor. In a delightful twist, Sybil and Victor, who have been getting on very well, start to squabble and argue and Amanda and Elyot sneak out unnoticed, hand in hand.

Tim Hatley's opening set, a 1930s hotel front with its paired balconies ascending in pure white is breathtakingly beautiful and gives a sense of space. There are ornamental white bay trees and art deco railings. The whole is lit beautifully to represent another era of elegance and affluence. There is Palm Court music in the distance and lavender lighting as night falls, and we can hear the sound of the ocean lapping the shore. "Moonlight Becomes You" is played so that Elyot can say "Nasty, insistent little tune" and Amanda, "Strange how potent cheap music is." The second and third acts are set in the Paris flat, with a piano and sofas overflowing with cushions and throws for Amanda and Elyot to drape on in their silk pyjamas. It is as if all the baggage from their relationship is reappearing in this darkly claustrophobic set.

Lindsay Duncan as Amanda is a confident, mature, beautiful and very sexy woman. Alan Rickman as Elyot has a sardonic style all of his own. Together they are well matched and infinitely more likeable than their new spouses. They tear each other apart verbally and even roll on the floor physically attacking each other. This is Coward with romance and sex! Emma Fielding does a great job as the immature and annoyingly naive Sybil, with dreadful dress sense. Adam Godley's uptight, geeky Englishman, Victor with the large ears, is out of his depth with a woman like Amanda. They are both foils, if we liked them we might view Elyot and Amanda's desertion more harshly.

I cannot wait for Howard Davies to direct more of Coward's plays with this post-modernist, natural approach. It is worth the price of a ticket to see Rickman trying to grin at his standing ovation, somehow his broadest smile looks like a snarl as he tries to look appreciative while Lindsay Duncan smiles radiantly. This production is a must see. -- Reviewed 7th October 2001 at the Alberry Theatre (with the same cast, director, creative team as listed in the production notes above). .

Metaphors Dictionary Cover
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from