The last Noël Coward play I saw was the National's Present Laughter a while ago, which was largely notable for how absent the laughter was. Fortunately Richard Eyre's production of Private Lives doesn't have any problems on that score, although the play does deal with some darker matters, namely the relationship between love and hate, and what happens when two people love each other desperately but don't actually like each other at all. Kim Cattrall and Matthew MacFadyen play Amanda and Elyot, who divorced five years ago and have both married other people. In true farce style, the play opens with them both on honeymoon, not realising they're in rooms next to each other. Once they meet again it doesn't take long for animosity to give way to attraction, and before you know it they've run off to Amanda's flat in Paris, leaving their new spouses in the lurch.
The cast is very good and Eyre's production is slick, notably adding some great moments of physical comedy to Coward's witticisms. As Amanda's new husband Victor, Simon Paisley Day (recently in Being Human as dodgy psychic Alan Cortez) has some scene-stealing moments but the play's really all about the central couple. Cattrall is the big-name draw (tonight's show seemed pretty much sold out to me) and is a good match for the role, she looks like she's enjoying herself and has a sardonic delivery that suits the lines; actually it's MacFadyen who gets a lot more of the laughs, although as Coward wrote the part of Elyot for himself to play, it's probably not that surprising he gets all the best lines. The casting does also help lend a darker note to proceedings: Although the warring couple have a couple of funny fights onstage, there's also plenty of references to Elyot having hit Amanda in the past. This does have a sinister touch when it's a large, muscular actor like MacFadyen in the role, rather than someone more effete.
For the second show in a row, the set presents a bit of a problem, for pretty much the opposite reason to Tuesday's: Presumably to make the set change at the interval easier, the hotel balcony where the first act takes place is squashed very far downstage; it all looks pretty but from the (not-actually-all-that-)cheap seats in the Upper Circle there are times when it's hard to see the actors. Things are better when the action moves to the sumptuous apartment, Rob Howell's set taking up the whole stage now in a design full of circles and spirals, including a fishtank that's simultaneously rather ugly and a little bit awesome. Overall this is entertaining throughout, and happily continues the trend of celebrity casting being largely appropriate and successful.
Private Lives by Noël Coward is booking until the 1st of May at the Vaudeville Theatre.