Private Lives, currently playing at the Gielgud Theatre, is a sexy and bitchy night out at the theatre that is hard not to like. With a strong cast that brings out the sexual tensions and a production that enjoys lingering in the sophisticated smuttiness of it all.
The central premise is that two recently remarried divorcees meet while they are honeymooning and pick up where they left off. But they soon discover that while they can't live without each other, they can't live with each other either. It's morally wrong and the characters should be unappealing but you root for them anyway as they ditch their spouses and head off to Paris.
This is a particularly physical production. The couples lunge at it each other, roll around on the floor, lust and slap each other about. Toby Stephens as Elyot Chase is sophisticated, good looking and full of sexual energy which probably helps win over the audience, particularly when he runs off with Amanda leaving Victor (played by a very uptight and restrained Anthony Calf) at the hotel. When the character wants to shock it still sounds surprisingly frank.
Anna Chancellor as Amanda has the presence and comic timing to look as if the part was written for her. She manages to get laughs from the slightest of gestures. The morning after a terrific row with Elyot she greets Victor as if nothing untoward has happened and offers to get coffee for everyone. The setup is so good that soon even the most innocent of words, brioche, elicits howls of laughter. Anna-Louise Plowman also manages to make the most of being Elyot's boring second wife Sibyl in the final act by delivering a few lines against Amanda with hilarious effect.
While the lines are sharp and well served and the pace is pretty good (the show runs under two hours including interval) there are the occasional lulls. Possibly the age and plotting of the piece begin to show. The mood swings and fight scenes sometimes seem to miss a beat, but overall this is a smart looking and sexy production that is hard to dislike. Private Lives is a show that regularly comes to the West End, but this time around it is worth a visit to see what all the sexual tension is about.
Directed by Jonathan Kent, the production originated at last year's Chichester Festival and is due to run through to September. The initial reactions with @Johnnyfoxlondon on the Audioboo follow...