By Noel Coward
Directed by Richard Eyre
Performed by Kim Cattrall, Paul Gross, Simon Paisley-Day, Anna Madeley, Caroline Lena Olsson
Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
September 25 to October 30, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Due South meets Sex in the City
Just head Due South to Sex in the City – and war will break out when you hit Private Lives. That’s what happens when Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall get together.
You know all those carefully choreographed battle scenes you’ve marvelled at on stage at the Stratford Festival? How they swing those shining swords, fall down and not get seriously injured?
Well, Stratford’s Shakespearean wars have been trumped. Private Lives has the most amazing stage fight I’ve ever seen, and yes, I predict someone – Gross or Cattrall – is going to get hurt.
The two Canadian stars are remarkable together. There is chemistry when they first kiss, but more tantalizing is their “anti-chemistry”: the way they fight. Gross is best known as the affable Mountie in the popular TV series Due South, while Cattrall is the seductive Samantha in Sex in the City.
In Private Lives, now on stage at Mirvish’s Royal Alexandra in Toronto, Gross plays Elyot while Cattrall is Amanda. The couple was once married to each other, but when the show opens they have been divorced for five years. They are both honeymooning at a resort in the south of France with their new spouses, when they see each other on the next balcony. Their old passion is rekindled and they decide to run off together to Amanda’s Paris flat, leaving their new partners Victor (Simon Paisley-Day) and Sybil (Anna Madeley) behind.
In scene two, we find Elyot and Amanda lounging in her intriguing art-deco apartment. The set itself garners applause when the act opens. It’s an underwater themed room, with a bed in the centre and lounging couches on either side. A grand piano is covered with silver framed photos, and two large wall shelves are crowded with chrome knick-knacks. The most amazing goldfish bowl – well, a series of stacked bowls, in fact, are lighted and filled with real swimming goldfish.
It’s no surprise when a fight breaks out between this stormy couple and in the battle royal, the fascinating set is basically destroyed. The knick-knacks are scattered and even the elaborate gold fish bowl is damaged. I won’t tell you how the war ends – no spoiler here.
Gross and Cattrall go at each other like it’s their job. Their fight is a choreographed marvel. He is 52, she is 55: they demonstrate great stamina, and they are expected to repeat this display eight times a week. They both appear to be in excellent shape and the twists and turns in the epic battle are hilarious.
Domestic violence is not entertaining, but somehow they pull it off without becoming offensive. In fact, their battle is so ridiculous, that they satirize violence by making it look ludicrous. Like the 1989 black comedy movie, War of the Roses, where Mike Douglas and Kathleen Turner destroy a mansion, it shows the worst in marital battles, to the point that the whole thing is preposterous.
Gross has a wonderful charisma and of course, his charming good looks are accentuated by his debonair 30’s style jacket, tie and pleated pants. He has expert comedic timing and tosses off the Coward witticisms with perfect “flippancy”. Cattrall is a firecracker on stage; your eye can’t wander away from her. Fresh from appearing in the same show in London’s West End, she has perfected her English accent and mannerisms. Her energetic performance is great entertainment. The two supporting actors are excellent: Paisley-Day as the blustering Victor and Madeley as the chattering and stubborn Sybil. Caroline Lena Olsson is a hilarious French maid, sneezing over breakfast as she carries the food in on a tray.
I hope audiences will attend to enjoy the timelessness of a Noel Coward comedy, but I expect some will attend only for the star attraction of the two lead players. In fact, the opening show audience was anticipating Cattrall, and so they applauded when a blonde walked out – but it was actually Madeley as Sybil … how embarrassing. Those balconies in the Royal Alex are a long, long way up, so the mistake in identity is forgivable.
The dialogue is clever and with these two actors it’s a great show. It was a pleasure to watch Paul Gross again, after seeing him as Hamlet in Stratford about 10 years ago. I am also a big fan of his WWI epic movie Passchendaele. And of course, Kim Cattrall’s reputation precedes her, so it’s exciting to see her live. She is much more than just Samantha with a British accent.
Private Lives is a delightful Coward comedy, written in 1930. Despite being more than 80 years old, the love-hate story is still timely. An old episode of the TV sit-com Frasier is based on Private Lives, where Frasier goes on vacation, only to find his ex-wife Lillith next door. Whether it’s Elyot and Amanda or Frasier and Lillith, the battle of the sexes never ends.
Private Lives continues at the Royal Alexandra until October 30, and then moves to Broadway. For tickets, call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or go to www.mirvish.com