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A CurtainUp London Review
Matthew Macfadyen is cast as Elyot. The last time I remember Macfadyen in such posh, elegant form was a few years back in Cheek By Jowl's Much Ado About Nothing when in full military uniform he was an upper class, drawling Benedick to Saskia Reeves' Beatrice. He is very attractive and masculine as he delivers epigram after epigram in Coward's masterpiece. Kim Cattrall as Amanda seems like a woman who has learnt much in the five years she has been apart from Elyot and this time she is going to get it right. Cattrall is sexy and kittenish and her comic timing under Eyre's direction is superb. Forget the sophisticate she plays in Sex in the City, her Amanda is as sweet as Marilyn Monroe— and she can sing. The important element for me was being able to believe in Macfadyen and Cattrall as a couple and this despite the age difference which I found imperceptible.
Rob Howell's hotel set is less sophisticated than others I have seen, all green louvred windows and wrought iron work balconies and balcony furniture. It's passably French, if not exactly the resort Deauville at the height of the fashionable 1930s. However, the Parisian apartment more than makes up for any shortcoming of the first act set. Amanda's rooftop pied a terre in Paris has a sumptuous art deco circular sofa and a curious fish bowl arrangement of three interconnecting bowls held together with some art nouveau ribbon in copper. Here Amanda and Elyot can luxuriously sprawl and pose in silk dressing gowns. . The clothes are perfect, from Kim Cattrall's flowing silk evening dress, (again the fabrics are special) to Macfadyen's curious, but correct for the period, high waisted trousers.
Lisa Dillon has the thankless task of playing the prissy Sybil, Elyot's new wife, who is unceremoniously dumped on her wedding night. True she is clingy and cloying in the first act but by the third she has become as unpleasant as her Home Counties mother who we are reminded, said Elyot had shifty eyes. That is an example of one of the nasty secrets we know we are never meant to reveal but somehow slip out in the heat of an argument and, which having been said, can never be unsaid or unheard. Lisa Dillon is very good indeed and of course it is the mark of a brilliant actor that she will throw herself into an unpopular role like this.
Simon Paisley Day as Amanda's stuffed shirt Victor gives away his anally retentive personality when we discover that although he has slept in his shirt and mid calf length socks with red sock suspenders, he has carefully placed his trousers under the baby grand piano lid for an overnight pressing. Such presence of mind to remember that no matter how heated the marital arguments, one's trousers must have a perfect crease! Day carries off Victor's more pompous and ridiculous ways very believably. It's important that we don't start to feel sorry for Sybil and Victor because after all, what has happened to them is not only embarrassing but humiliating.
Coward plays with us as we think that the neat solution from the first act would be Victor pairing up with Sybil but it's much more fun to see them fighting as they each defend their own fleeting and fleeing spouse. I personally would have cut the scene with the French maid as I find the throwing of the brioche rather childish. But do go and see Private Lives for the electrifying sexual chemistry between Cattrall and Macfadyen and the way Richard Eyre has put all this together so that newcomers to Coward's play will thrill at the humour, the sheer delight of watching the warring couple giving way to the sexual attraction they still have for each other.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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