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Review Roundup: PRIVATE LIVES Opens in the West End

Following a sell-out run at Chichester Festival Theatre, Private Lives opened at the Gielgud theatre last night, July 3, with Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor reprising their starring roles in Noël Coward's classic screwball comedy.

Directed by Jonathan Kent, the tale of a divorced couple who rekindle their love whilst on honeymoon with their new spouses also features Anthony Calf and Anna-Louise Plowman stepping back into their roles as the pair's newly hitched and soon to be spurned other halves.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Paul Taylor, The Independent: West End transfers from Chichester have become practically a matter of course during Jonathan Church's remarkably rich and fertile regime there and the latest production to make the leap from Sussex to Shaftesbury Avenue is this dazzling, razor-sharp revival of Private Lives...Seeing Jonathan Kent's production for a second time confirms me in the view that this is the best account of Coward's masterpiece since Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan struck sparks off each other in the West End more than a decade ago.

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian: In Private Lives [Coward] pits destructive passion against strait-laced propriety. Naturally, the former romps home. One of the excellent things about Jonathan Kent's revival is that it's clear that Anthony Calf's bellowing, blustering Victor and Anna-Louise Plowman's pinkly pretty Sibyl disgust each other too...And although Kent's production was a success at the Chichester festival last year, it appears to have mislaid some sparkle on the journey to London. The combustible chemistry between Chancellor and Stephens is elusive. You never believe that they want to kiss each other more than life itself. Like Anthony Ward's slinky art deco designs, the emotions are just a little too handsome and elegant; even a wrecked Paris flat looks artfully arranged.

Henry Hitchings, London Evening Standard: In this deliciously fresh revival Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens bring a lovely chemistry to Noël Coward's comedy of manners - which feels as if it can't possibly date from 1930...Coward's barbed masterpiece calls for actors who can express themselves in a rich variety of ways, and Chancellor serves up a mix of imperious elegance and bohemian weariness, with more than the odd touch of slinky danger. Stephens switches deftly from villainous virility to a clown's extravagance, and from petulance to a suave drawl...I can't recall having seen him give a better performance than he does here.

Ben Dowell, The Stage: Noel Coward's 1930 comedy sweeps into the West End on a wave of love for Jonathan Kent's fresh and zesty Chichester revival from last autumn- and you can see why...Stephens has all the shallow insouciance expected of the role, goofily entitled but somehow always alert to the stirrings of his blackened, hyper-privileged heart. He even flicks his ash with the right level of disdain. Chancellor, for me the star of this production, is similarly knowing but her impeccably skilful timing also extracts every ounce of comic gusto from her lines. One longs for their moments together. But while this has all the sexual energy between the warring partners we need, a good production of this play also requires a believable set of rejected partners. And Antony Calf brings to his Victor Prynne all the worthy decency Amanda was so obviously keen to reject and Anna-Louise Plowman's Sybil turns beautifully from blissful ignorance to bratty fury.

Peter Brown, London Theatre Guide: There's far more, though, to Janathan Kent's fine production than impressively astute design. In particular, there's a cast in top-notch form. Anna Chancellor's Amanda seems more mature and more sophisticated than Toby Stephen's ex-spouse Elyot, who has the energy and temper of the adolescent about him, even if he does have bags of charm. In fact, both of them have an underlying immaturity - adults who have not quite learnt how to grow-up, or maybe they just don't want to, or maybe they are just bored with the continual rounds of cocktail parties, and dressing for expensive dinners. The cast is completed by Anthony Calf as Amanda's new husband, Victor, who has the demeanour of the old-fashioned bank manager about him, and Anna-Louise Plowman is Sibyl, the most vulnerable and innocent of the newlyweds...Whatever the moral, there's still plenty to laugh at with some wonderful Coward lines which means the play is still entertaining even if it has a darker, less acceptable side to be found in the intimate partner violence between Mandy and Elyot.

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