Review: Private Lives

Kim Cattrall vamps through Nol Coward's cross-marital comedy.

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  • Photograph: Cylla von Tiedemann

    Private Lives

    Private Lives at Music Box Theatre

  • Photograph: Cylla von Tiedemann

    Private Lives

    Private Lives at Music Box Theatre

  • Photograph: Cylla von Tiedemann

    Private Lives

    Private Lives at Music Box Theatre

  • Photograph: Jeremy Daniel

    Seminar

    Private Lives at Music Box Theatre

Photograph: Cylla von Tiedemann

Private Lives

Private Lives at Music Box Theatre

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

"You can't bear the thought that there are certain moments when our chemical what d'you call 'ems don't fuse properly." Thus glamour-puss socialite Amanda (Cattrall) explains why she has just rebuffed an advance from hot-and-cold-running ex-husband Elyot (Gross). Alas, Amanda's point applies to audiences at Richard Eyre's revival of Private Lives: Watching actors who don't meld on that deep, cellular level is equally unbearable. We wait all night for their what d'you call 'ems to rise to the champagne bubbliness of Nol Coward's 1930 classic, and they never do.

Eyre's production—handsomely designed by Rob Howell (set and costumes) and dreamily lit by David Howe—exudes intelligence and style, but misses the necessary balance of musicality and silliness, of brittleness and bluff—without which Coward comes across as arch, empty fluff. Exquisitely contrived and capriciously sustained, Private Lives is one of his vintage almost-farces, a comedy of marital manners in which the divorced Amanda and Elyot find themselves in adjoining honeymoon suites in the South of France on second marriages. In short order they reunite in shock, feign apathy, fall in love again and adulterously elope, leaving their killjoy spouses (Simon Paisley Day, Anna Madeley) to track them down in Paris.

Since Coward penned the work as a vehicle for himself and stage soulmate Gertrude Lawrence, the play hinges utterly on leads with consummate comic timing and romantic chemistry. Although Cattrall exudes the right sort of self-satisfied friskiness, Gross unwisely imbues Elyot with an emotionally violent temper, and he tends to vocally trample over Coward's filigree repartee. (While bickering with Cattrall, he also catches her whiny, upward inflections.) "A shrewd and witty comedy, well constructed on the whole, but psychologically unstable," was the author's own self-assessment in his 1937 memoir. Beware any star, however appealing, who conspires with his director to shoehorn in stability.

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Music Box Theatre. By Nol Coward. Dir. Richard Eyre. With Kim Cattrall, Paul Gross. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. See complete event information

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