I am lately returned from said “Scene of Dissipation & vice” i.e. London, quoting Austen’s letter of August 23, 1796 [Le Faye, Letters, no. 3], telling of her arrival in Town and finding already her “Morals corrupted” – and where I, currently re-reading Mansfield Park, saw a good number of delightful Henry and Mary Crawfords!
So much to tell [mostly having nothing to do with Jane Austen, I am afraid to say…] – so mainly here just want to share about one night at the theatre, where we had the privilege of seeing Private Lives, with Kim Cattrall and Matthew MacFadyen of Mr. Darcy fame, and directed by Sir Richard Eyre. The show was in previews starting February 24, and how lucky my daughter and I were to get tickets for the 26th. What a treat to sit in the fifth row, dead center and watch them do their magic, passion abounding both of the sexual kind and the throwing things kind! – it seems that every night in Act II the set is nearly demolished during a violent quarrel between the major parties where far more than mere words are flung at each other.
I confess wanting to go to this play largely to see “Mr. Darcy” up close and personal [who looks quite fine in a tuxedo as you can see…] – my daughter more than happy to oblige, and as she is a huge fan of both Mr. Darcy and Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall, the evening could only be a delight for all. This production began its life in Bath and will be in London for a ten-week run – and what great fun it is! Noel Coward’s Private Lives has been revived numerous times, first perfomed in 1930 with Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence [and a young Laurence Olivier in the supporting actor role], and most recently in 2001/2 with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, and as has been universally discussed, there must be a grand spark and chemistry between the leads or one should just get up and leave, the play after all being about the nature of sexual attraction! And this works very well with MacFadyen and Cattrall, despite a huge gap in their ages in real time [Ms. Cattrall is 53, MacFadyen a mere 35] – they play the formerly married-to-each-other Amanda and Elyot, who while honeymooning with their new spouses in the south of France discover their hotel rooms share adjoining balconies. And from there it is all fireworks and love and lust and anger as they abandon their new spouses and perhaps their better selves for a Part II performed largely in a pajama-clad semi-drunken state as they try to figure out what to do with this nearly debilitating passion… watch out if you are in the front row! [An article from yesterday tells of Ms. Cattrall’s bruising her legs on falling into a table after a hefty shove by MacFadyen – can this be our gentlemanly Mr. Darcy??!] – these are two very self-absorbed people you would barely tolerate in real life, but thankfully for the biting wit and constant edge of Mr. Coward’s words, and the acting of all, you have sympathy for this couple in search of themselves [there was a more than audible gasp from the audience when Elyot smacks Amanda, so sympathies only go so far…]
Ms. Cattrall pulls off an English accent far better than I would have expected [one woman I talked to during intermission felt her only misstep was pronouncing a French word incorrectly!] and her comic-timing is perfect, and as expected, her clothing is fabulous – putting the play in its time frame, which perhaps helps us deal with the chauvinistic Elyot. Act II, as mentioned, finds Amanda and Elyot in their elegant silk pajamas through nearly the end of the play, and lovely pajamas at that! [with memories of a partially bare-chested Mr. Darcy in the mists..] – MacFadyen and Cattrall also sing quite credibly, and though it appears that Elyot is playing the piano [and I was impressed that MacFadyen has such skills!] – it seems that it was play-acted after all, but I was certainly fooled as was most everyone else! And I must add that, as he fully displayed in the hilarious Death at a Funeral, MacFadyen’s comic timing is spot-on…
…and for another costume drama aside, Lisa Dillon plays the hapless new spouse of Elyot – poor girl and what a mess she gets herself into with this cad – and certainly a far different role than her part in Cranford as Mary Smith:
And one other aside that does bring Austen into focus. The woman next to me and I began chatting about why we came to see this play – for me, because I was a fan of MacFadyen’s for his Spooks work and the 2005 P&P – she was astonished as Austen is her favorite writer, etc, etc. – you all know the conversation that follows after that connection is established! – and the “what is your favorite book?’ was answered on her part with an almost embarrassing “Oh! I love most the one few people even like or worse have not even read – Northanger Abbey!” – well, here we were two complete strangers from two different countries, suddenly bonding over Henry Tilney, and only needing to stop talking in order to watch “Mr. Darcy” continue in his play – how bad is that for an evening in London!
The Strand, London WC2
February 24 – May 1, 2010
Further reading and reviews:
- Noel Coward.com website with biography, bibliography, etc.
- The Noel Coward Society
- A study guide to Private Lives from the Utah Shakespearean Festival
- Private Lives at wikipedia – synopsis and production history of the play; click here for a history of the film version
- Youtube clips of various Private Lives productions
- Telegraph article on the play and the Telegraph review
- Review at The Guardian
- Times online article on the play and Times online review
- Mail online review
- Playbill article with a photogallery
- Interview with Matthew Macfadyen
- and another ” at the Guardian
[Posted by Deb]