Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Saturday afternoon Owen and I made a trip to the Menier Chocolate Factory to see one half of their new season of plays by Willy Russell, SHIRLEY VALENTINE.

This and the accompanying production of EDUCATING RITA of course trail the memories of the big screen versions - neither of which I was particularly keen on. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't all that struck on SHIRLEY VALENTINE the first time I saw it with Pauline Collins back in the day at the Vaudeville Theatre.

I remember laughing every so often but I found the comedy a bit too pat, a bit too sit-com in style, a bit obvious. There was no denying the excellence of Pauline Collins and she certainly gave a real star performance which deservedly won her a raft of awards along with the rare honour of being allowed to immortalise her performance in the film, not always a given.
So I was vaguely curious to see how it holds up 22 years later. Actually I found that history was repeating, while I found the first act still playing like a vaguely amusing sit-com, I was won over by the inspired casting of Meera Syal as Shirley. I had hugely enjoyed her performance in RAFTA, RAFTA at the National a few years ago and was interested to see how she would respond to the challenge of a one-woman show.We saw only her second performance in front of an audience as Shirley so the occasional stumble could be forgiven and she negotiated her way through the first two scenes well.

We all know Meera Syal is an accomplished actress as well as writer so it's no surprise she can multi-task on stage too - during the first scene she cooks as she acts! Yep them are real chips in the deep fat fryer and eggs scrambling away in the frying pan - dangerous smells to have wafting around you with an empty stomach just after lunchtime. A helpful generous squirt of air-freshener was dispensed during the scene change!

Syal nailed the laughs that are to be had in the script but more than anything, she managed to find the sadness in the character and in the moments when Shirley realises that life has reduced her to being just someone's wife and someone's mother, she has you despairing with her. The second half, where Shirley goes to Greece and finds her long-lost self, was by far the best part of the show and Meera Syal rose to the challenge of giving us a character that it was a pleasure to spend a few hours with.
She also coped well with an ominous snap under a raised part of the stage masquerading as a sand dune. Looking at the bottom of her shoe she said "Oops I think I killed something" and successfully rode out her own and the audience's laughter to continue on. A fine example of including the audience in 'on the joke' but also knowing when to get our broken concentration back on track.

Director Glen Walford directed the show's first-ever outing in Liverpool in 1986 so knows the play inside out and charted the character's progress to self-realisation well. Walford is herself a fine performer and I remember well her tough-as-nails performance as a Soho clip-joint manageress in LOVE ON THE PLASTIC at the long-gone Half Moon Theatre.
On Friday it was time to get all unnecessary at the thought of seeing Alphabeat live, this time at the Islington Garage.Their first album was such a lifesaver in the dark days of Borehamwood that they really can do no wrong in my eyes - but the idea of seeing them live always fills me with an odd fear. Maybe I am waiting for the time when I don't 'get' it anymore?

The gig was free entry - thanks to pre-ordering the album through HMV, winning competitions etc. We were told that guaranteed entry was up until 8pm so I made sure we were there nice and early.Actually it was my first visit to The Garage and, despite the lighting turned down to full-on MURK it seemed ok. We stood towards the back by the bar and waited for the doors to be taken off the hinges at 8pm with the crush of first-come, first served entrants. And we waited...

By the time the 'beaters came bouncing on the stage, we had moved down towards the stage and the floor was just over three-quarters full. At least it gave me room to dance but it was a bit depressing that they could not pull a bigger crowd. I concur with what D.A. Harvey had to say later that people are wary of free entry gigs - one always assumes that they will be mobbed so it's easier to stay away.

It wasn't long before I was in my own little Alphabeat world - the new songs sounded so much better live than on the over-tweaked album and I was singing, clapping and dancing along as they cantered through ALWAYS UP WITH YOU, THE BEAT IS..., THE SPELL, D.J. (my favorite track off the new album after THE SPELL), HOLE IN MY HEART, CHESS, WHAT IS HAPPENING and 10,000 NIGHTS. Something however didn't seem to be firing with Anders SG and Stine, a reticence, a feeling of peddling. It was then that Anders announced that they were sorry but they would be curtailing the show as Stine was feeling poorly - NOOOOO!

They did come back after a lengthy chant of AL-PHA-BEAT! and launched into the fabulous, long-intro'd live version of the glorious FASCINATION which had us all singing and riding the Alphabeat love wave. Then it was over... a group bow, waves and leaving the stage with Stine coughing and holding her chest.

It was disappointing but I was so happy to have spent time in their pop heaven. Soon come the Koko gig....

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yesterday was Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday!Last night he attended a special preview of the show SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM at Studio 54 which stars, among others, Broadway legend Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and TABOO's Euan Morton.
Sondheim joined them on stage for the curtain call and the obligatory singing of Happy Birthday. They were then joined onstage by James Lapine, Sondheim's collaborator for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, INTO THE WOODS and PASSION.

He announced that the Henry Miller Theatre on 43rd Street will be re-named the Stephen Sondheim Theatre when the current Dame Edna show finishes it's run there.
Finally! This is a fantastic tribute from a community whom his works have sometimes appeared to work counter to the box-office interests of - but who have been enriched by his constant exploration of the form of musical theatre, as we all have.Sondheim also appears to have been blown away by the news....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Last night Owen and I took a walk on the wild side in Waterloo. It's not that difficult to be honest but this was at the National Film Theatre - I refuse to call it the absurd BFI South Bank - to see BEAUTIFUL DARLING, James Rasin's revealing documentary on the Warhol Superstar Candy Darling.

I remember the first time I became aware of Candy.
I had bought John Willis' Screen World at the start of 1975 - it was an American-published annual listing every film that had been released during the year in America - and while browsing through the obituary section at the back I was gobsmacked to see a head & shoulders portrait of a beautiful young blonde actress Candy Darling who had died early in 1974.

Now I knew my filmstars, I bought all the film magazines... how come I had never seen this actress before? Of course my jaw fell open when I read the obit properly and saw that she had been born James Slattery. When one's experience of cross-dressing is based on the obvious bloke-in-a-frock typified by Danny la Rue, the utter femininity captured by Peter Beard's photograph was a revelation.Of course after that I learned that the 'Candy' in Lou Reed's WALK ON THE WILD SIDE was none other than Miss Darling and that, by and large, has been my knowledge of her. So BEAUTIFUL DARLING was quite a revelation in exactly what Candy managed to achieve - and at what cost.

By far the most appealing of the Warhol trans stars, the film charts the early life of James, growing up in the arid normality of Queens and Long Island, caught between a doting mother and an abusive father. Unsurprisingly an escape into the world of 1950's Hollywood led him to a fixation with the Baked Alaska personality of Kim Novak and his role model was set in place, especially after she sent him a heartfelt letter with a signed picture. The template for his look was set...In the film Candy declaims - it would be unfair to call it acting - two speeches of Novak's from PICNIC and JEANNE EAGELS. What I was curious about was how the dark-haired 14 year old Slattery would have reacted to Kim's exceptional performance in Hitchcock's VERTIGO, where her enigmatic and soulful blonde Madeline is revealed to actually have been an invention - especially as her 'real' self is the brunette and streetwise Judy. Reinvention which drives a man to distraction - even if it leads to tragedy.The film certainly tries to provide an in-depth look at the person behind the glamour-on-a-budget persona but ultimately she is a mystery. Differing views are given of her by friends and acquaintances but one suspects that this is viewed through the glow of time and I'm sure that she could be as maddening as any of her colleagues - forever broke, forever on the cadge. Reminiscences are provided by, among many others, Holly Woodlawn, Fran Lebowitz, John Waters, Julie Newmar - WOW!, Paul Morrissey, Jayne County, Helen Hanft, Bob Collacello, Taylor Mead and Pat Hackett.
The film also tells of her relationship with Jeremiah Newton, a friend younger than Candy with no noticeable means of support but who appeared to be more grounded than she was and who seems to have devoted his life since her death to keeping her flame alive. The film follows his arranging for Candy's ashes to finally be interred in a quiet cemetery - along with his mother's ashes and with a space for him too. It sounds vaguely creepy but he appears to be a kind soul and his devotion to his friend is touching. Again, one wonders what the years have allowed to be forgotten.After Candy's death Jeremiah went to see her mother who gave him permission to take away the old diaries and possessions she had saved. With promises that he could come and collect the rest, Jeremiah left with what he could carry. A few weeks later he contacted Candy's mother about another visit - to find she had burnt everything. She had been worried about her homophobic new husband finding out about her Jimmy. It never ends....
Luckily Jeremiah had these diaries as they provide the real voice of Candy among the conflicting views of her. Read by Chloe Sevigny, the excerpts provide a surprisingly perceptive voice to the endless photographs - and make you realise how self-aware Candy was and how even during the manic, busy years when she was a New York face, she was aware of the strange dichotomies that the glamour was hiding.Who knows what the world lost when Candy succumbed to Lymphoma all those years ago? What we do know was lost was the inspiration for a few Lou Reed songs, a fascinating persona that was the inspiration for some great photographs taken by the likes of Beaton, Mapplethorpe and Scavullo and an actress who, according to Julie Newmar - WOW! - had the possibility of being nurtured into being a fine performer given the right director and project - Candy had after all appeared in the 1972 debut production of Tennessee Williams' SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS in New York. Indeed this was only one of several off-Broadway productions she appeared in, such as starring in a Jackie Curtis play in 1968 supported by a 25 year-old Robert de Niro!Oddly not addressed in the film is the conjecture that Candy's illness was exacerbated by the dodgy hormones she had taken for years. There is a passing reference to what she used to take but it is lost in the mix.

Towards the end of the film, the rostrum camera pans up some photos of the teenage Jimmy Slattery taken in a photo booth and in the top one he has drawn a full flip hairdo over his own hair... it's undeniably poignant especially coming so soon after the famous photographs of Candy dying in hospital - playing the role till the end.
If the film gets any sort of distribution I would urge you to see this fascinating and thought-provoking elegy to friendship and the courage and tenacity it takes to be your own special creation.
There are some dramatists I seem to veer more towards than others. This struck me in the week when we went to see the latest revival of George Bernard Shaw's MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION at the Comedy Theatre.

In all I have seen three of his plays: MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION, HEARTBREAK HOUSE and SAINT JOAN.
Three out of forty five is not a good batting average. However I do a bit better with film versions as I have seen five of them - CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, SAINT JOAN, THE MILLIONAIRESS, PYGMALION and MAJOR BARBARA.

In truth I have always found Shaw a little 'sticky' - more often than not, the play is not the thing, that hectoring tone is never far away.

However, MRS, WARREN'S PROFESSION is less of a theatrical debating room as it was written in 1893 while he was still finding his theatrical voice. In fact more than anything, it shows the influence of Ibsen on his early writing and the opprobrium that greeted MRS. WARREN was similar to the critical revulsion to GHOSTS or A DOLL'S HOUSE. Indeed, it's first production in New York in 1905 resulted in the entire company being arrested. Since then the play has been staged regularly, constantly providing actresses with two rattling good roles.Vivie is a confident girl, flush from her recent success at Cambridge, whose blue stocking attitude is rocked by her discovery that her comfortable life and college education have been bank-rolled by her mother's profession as a high-class brothel-keeper in several cities of Europe.

Despite the rather ephemeral male characters who are there to show up the hypocritical standards of the male world - and ergo provide most of the humour - the play comes into it's own with the two confrontation scenes between the mother and daughter. Unlike most playwrights, Shaw doesn't allow us the privilege of siding with one against the other - both characters have valid points to make but emotionalism is the downfall of both of them - too much on the mother's side, not enough on the daughter's.What still rings true down the years is the great speech Shaw gives Mrs. Warren to explain her choices in life - which of course meant no choice. Refusing the lead factory that killed her half-sister, the 'respectable' choices are a life in service or as an under-paid barmaid. That is until her long-lost sister Liz appears in the bar dressed to the nines with money to spend.

In the text - and as Brenda Blethyn played it in the Peter Hall
production I saw a few years ago - Mrs. Warren reverts back to a cockney accent during this speech but here director Michael Rudman has Felicity Kendal play the scene straight and indeed played thus, and with Kendal's conviction, there is no need for such a device.

I liked Kendal's performance, the only trouble being that in moments when she has to rant and rave, her vocal range doesn't allow for it. However what she does capture well in the final scene is Kitty Warren's obvious maternal emotionalism slowly giving way to clear-eyed anger.

Lucy Briggs-Owen gave no ground as the modern Vivie nicely playing the character down the line with no attempt at making her sympathetic.

David Yelland gave a suave and stylish performance as Sir John Crofts, Mrs. Warren's titled business investor who can fight as nasty as any streetfighter and I also liked Max Bennett as Frank, Vivie's erstwhile boyfriend. A self-confessed slacker, he appears to be there for comic relief but ultimately shows that he is as much of a realist as the others.As I said, Michael Rudman's production only seemed to galvanise itself in the big confrontation scenes while Paul Farnsworth's set, while charming with it's design of faded images of country fields and garden flowers, stopped any momentum due to the length of the scene changes.

That should do me for Shaw for a while!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Thursday evening I went with Owen and Angela to the minuscule Jermyn Street Theatre to see a new production of ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, the legendary 1964 flop musical written by Stephen Sondheim. It was thought-provoking but for all the wrong reasons.To set the scene: Sondheim's first score was for the musical SATURDAY NIGHT which was ready to be staged in 1955 but was scrapped when the leading backer suddenly died. He was then the lyricist for two shows which are now considered classics WEST SIDE STORY in 1957 and GYPSY in 1959 - he had hoped to write the full score for GYPSY but Ethel Merman coalboxed that idea as she wanted a proven composer so Jule Styne was brought on board. Finally in 1962 he wrote music and lyrics for a Broadway show - A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. Although it was successful and won the Tony Award for Best Musical, his score was largely overlooked and wasn't even nominated for Best Score. So, teaming up again with Arthur Laurents, the writer of WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY, he started work on ANYONE CAN WHISTLE.Laurent's would-be-satire is set in an American town bankrupted by the corrupt mayoress and her cronies. They fake a 'miracle' - a rock that spouts water - to get the tourists flocking. There is uproar when the inmates of the town's insane asylum or 'Cookie Jar' escape into the crowd while visiting the shrine - a situation made worse when a stranger is assumed to be the new head of the 'Cookie Jar' who wins the public over with his theory that we are all mad and all authority is to be mistrusted. Hapgood is labelled an undesirable by the corrupt politicians and has to fight off the romantic attentions of the mayoress as well as the equally mysterious "Lady From Lourdes" who has come to investigate the miracle.He soon guesses she is in fact the idealistic head nurse Fay who refuses to hand over her 'cookies' to the authorities. Their love is compromised however by Fay's inability to be able to live for the moment, to "whistle". The show ends with the corrupt politicians still in power, the 'cookies' under the control of a new strict doctor, Hapgood exposed as a 'cookie' and Fay finally able to "whistle".

The show's three stars all made their musical debuts - Lee Remick as Fay, Harry Guardino as Hapgood and Angela Lansbury as the corrupt mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper. After a troubled try-out tour - one of the main supporting actors died on stage! - they opened to mostly bad reviews and the show closed after a mere 9 performances. And that should have been that.However Sondheim's score was immortalised by a cast album, recorded as the tradition had it then, on the first Sunday after opening night.
Goddard Lieberson was not only the President of Columbia Records but also produced the cast recordings of the period and although he could have passed on the option to record the show, he felt it was intriguing enough to warrant being kept for posterity. Thank God he did as, although not the full score, it saves the vocal performances of Lee Remick - heartbreakingly wistful in her two ballads - and of course Angela Lansbury who punts her numbers ME AND MY TOWN and A PARADE IN TOWN into greatness.So ANYONE CAN WHISTLE joins Jerry Herman's MACK AND MABEL in being a show that closed early but that has gained it's popularity and a cult following from it's recorded score. However what only becomes evident when you watch these shows in performance is that the book is far-from-memorable.

Such is the case at Jermyn Street - added to a production which seems to misguidedly pursue an artistic vision which the slight book can't sustain.

First the venue. Now I am all for spaces being reclaimed for performance but c'mon - the playing area here is about 7 foot deep so any show that has a large dance element - and there are two long numbers in ANYONE CAN WHISTLE that require a lot of stage traffic - is compromised by the choreography having to be curtailed to a stage the width of a tube train - this was also made glaringly apparent where we were seated at the side of the stage. Although the seats are ok, I was always aware of my surroundings - and by the fact that the Stygian witches have found gainful employment as front-of-house attendants. A smile costs nothing ladies...

Now to the production. The director Tom Littler obviously has a vision as to what the show is REALLY all about which is the rise of fascism. So the show is set in 1930 for no other reason than the town is going through a depression and twice during the second act the show stops dead for no other reason than for one of the 'peasants' to daub an anti-Cora message on the auditorium's wall by torchlight - only to have it converted later into the symbol the ministers are wearing on their armbands - again by torchlight, again s-l-o-w-l-y.

The finale is the real jaw-dropper. Instead of Fay and Hapgood finally embracing while the water from the rock reappears only this time by magic - ergo a happy ending - we have the lights all go red, the music turning into a military beat and Cora and her ministers all appear stern faced and facing us with a clenched-fist martial salute - ergo unhappy end.

Now it's up to Littler if he wants to do a revisionist take on the show - as Sam Mendes then Rufus Norris did with CABARET - but trying to tack this onto Laurents' hopelessly twee book of ham-fisted political satire where the insane are always given the cutesy 'cookie' name and the final round-up of 'cookies' include people such as Agnes Brecht, Brian Kirkegaard, Hyacinthe Engels etc. is really giving it a poe-facedness that beggars belief.

Be warned - this is a production where the music is played by the supporting cast - I am hoping they play the score in so squeaky and Brechian a way due to the general air of misery that the production is aiming for and not due to their inept musicianship. May I state again - I loathe this approach to musical staging - if you can't afford a band then don't do the damn show! It's not a stunning new reinterpretation of the score - it's cheap and half-arsed.
The best performances were given by Issy van Randwyck - once on the books of the actor's agency I worked for - as Cora and Alistair Robins as the venal Comptroller Shub. Rosalie Craig and David Ricardo-Pearce were ok as Fay and Hapgood as were the rest of the supporting cast - apart from the cast-member who plays her character as Catherine Tate's nan who should be ashamed of herself.

This is now the second time I have seen the show - the equally financially-challenged Bridewell Theatre staged it in 2003 with Paula Wilcox singing the role of Cora in the key of Yale but at least they had a band from what I remember.

If anyone wants to do a new production I will see it again if they drastically re-write the unworkable book - otherwise I will be at home with Lee and Angela on my cd player.

In closing, last night I watched Julien Temple's REQUIEM FOR DETROIT? a fascinating and disturbing documentary on the lingering death of what was once America's fourth largest city and is now half-deserted with old car factories literally crumbling to nothingness and being consumed by trees and vegetation - a fine example, Mr. Director, of how with a little imagination this show's setting could have been made relevant to today.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sometimes it does you good to leave the city... especially from a stalls seat in the Olivier Theatre.

Earlier this week Owen and I saw the last preview of Nicholas Hytner's revival of Dion Boucicault's comedy of manners LONDON ASSURANCE.

It was an evening of revisits... the first time I had been back to my beloved Olivier since the rather woeful NATION and it was a welcome return to the work of Boucicault whose epic comedy THE SHAUGHRAUN worked so well in the Olivier back in day - bejesus it was 22 years ago!!

As the programme notes, Boucicault seems to be the bridge from the post-Restoration comedies of Congreve and Sheridan to the 'modern' works of Wilde and Shaw. It is certainly worth noting that these five playwrights were all Irish - Congreve was born in England but raised and educated in Ireland.

Boucicault's plays usually have a highly theatrical style, teeming with larger-than-life characters sweeping through melodramatic plots with hissable villains and fainting heroines.

He had started out as an actor then tried his hand at writing. Three years later he presented a farce to Charles Matthews who co-ran the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden company who advised him to try his hand at a comedy dealing with 'modern life'. The result was LONDON ASSURANCE which was staged in 1841 to an immediate success. This set him off on a life of roaring success and crashing failures, several debatable marriages, the initiation of copyrights for authors and box-office royalties. His life would make a great play!

The play has been given a textual revision (!) by Richard Bean which I presume has given it a slight update but the plot is pure post-Restoration: the vain and overbearing Sir Harcourt Courtly has a large London townhouse, a wardrobe of outlandishly modern clothes, an idea of his own importance and a bank account running low on funds.He shares his house with his son Charles who he believes to be a studious and mild lad although Charles sneaks out nightly for a life of drinking and gambling. Sir Harcourt is arranging with his landowner friend Max to marry his 18 year old niece Grace but this means Courtly - to his horror - has to venture into deepest Gloucestershire to close the deal! Little does he know that Charles is also on his way thanks to Max extending an invitation to the cockney chancer Dazzle who helped Charles home that morning!
Once there, the practical Grace is appalled at the overdone Sir Harcourt but finds herself to be falling in love with a young stranger - yes you guessed Charles in disguise! Another spanner is thrown in the romantic works with the arrival of the gloriously named Lady Gay Spanker, a country wife addicted to hunting who Sir Harcourt is soon making a play for - despite the presence of her geriatric husband. Complications ensue...

Nicholas Hytner keeps the pace going at a rapid rate, buffaloing over some of the more dodgy plotting to build up a frenzy of fun and bringing out the best in his fine ensemble.
Nick Sampson steals every scene he is in as Courtly's unflappable butler Cool - a career awaits him for all those gentleman's gentleman roles not played since the loss of Gielgud! Matt Cross also makes a big impression as Dazzle the flyboy floating through life on his wits. Mark Addy too made a real impact as Max, the avuncular country householder.

Michelle Terry followed up her role as Helena in last year's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL with a sparky performance as Grace, another resourceful young woman. She was ably partnered on stage by Paul Ready as Charles, again following up on his fine performance in last year's less-than-great TIME AND THE CONWAYS. There was an effective cameo from Richard Briers as the doddery but game Mr. Spanker.

Ruling over the evening however is the killer-diller duo of Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw.
Simon Russell Beale came to prominence in the 1980s playing over-made-up fops in several RSC restoration comedies so this is familiar territory to him - but by God he is wonderful at it. He cut an outrageous figure, first in a flowing brocade dressing gown and then in a purple cutaway all topped off with suspiciously dark curls, he mines seams of comedy with ease. He timed his laughs with the preciseness of Mussolini's timetables - especially when telling Max about how his wife ran off with his best friend *beat* *beat* "And I miss him". Another memorable performance.
Fiona Shaw isn't an actress I usually go out of my way to see but back in 1983 I saw her on the Olivier stage in her debut as Julia in Sheridan's THE RIVALS and it's a joy to see her return to High Comedy from the wastelands of The Waste Land and Mother Courage. I suspect most actresses would let the name - Lady Gay Spanker - do most of her work for her but Shaw is intelligent enough to seek out the character too and gives us a rambuncious, cigar-smoking, whisky-swigging, good-humoured lady of the land - the scenes between her and Beale are easily the high points of the evening.

Mark Thompson's sets are a delight and the whole production has a timeless gusto that will keep the Olivier Theatre busy for some time.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I am all smiley of visage owing to the news that I have won two tickets to see the mighty Alphabeat at the Garage in Islington at the end of the month! This, on top of unexpectedly winning a signed copy of the new single HOLE IN MY HEART!

I now NEED to play the new album THE BEAT IS....


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Earlier this week Owen and I made a return to our London theatregoing when we went to the Vaudeville - again! - to see Richard Eyre's production of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES.

From it's original production in 1930, the play has become one the most beloved comedies - by both audiences and actors! This time Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen are playing Amanda and Elyot, the lovers who can't live with each other - or without each other.Coward wrote the roles with himself and Gertrude Lawrence in mind and a flavour of these two individual performers haunt the teasing, darting repartee, the illusion being of a soapy bubble being kept floating in midair by the most delicate of touches.

Like THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST the reason for the play's longevity is that it just works - the effortless wit and frothy air hides the play's solid foundation within the classic three-act structure, no line superfluous, no action out of place. Remarkable then that when it first opened that it received mixed reviews at best from the London critics.

The glittering wit and sharp-as-knives barbs also conceal a fascinating central story of two people who are constantly aware that while they are ideally suited, yet they can't stop the arguments that regularly erupt between them. Life imitated art in the 1972 London revival when Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens' marriage crumbled away during the run and in a 1983 New York revival this love you-hate you aspect was more than played up with the casting of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, seven years after their second divorce. It was a box office hit even though as Frank Rich said in The New York Times "it had all the gaiety of a tax audit".Luckily you are in safe hands at the Vaudeville.

Richard Eyre brought his usual clarity of vision to the play - the first act slowly but surely gathering momentum until we too were swept up in the giddy excitement of Amanda and Elyot eloping to Paris. The second act is again paced carefully as we ride the rollercoaster that is the couple's determined efforts to stay in love and not fight until all Hell finally breaks loose.
His handling of the third act was interesting, not playing up the slapstick elements but again leading effortlessly up to the final famous image - Amanda and Elyot slipping away together again as Victor and Sibyl have a stand-up fight. Eyre makes sure that the bittersweet regret at the heart of the play is never far from the surface froth.

Eyre also has elicited interesting non-Coward performances from his two leads. Matthew Macfadyen still strikes me as an odd choice - he initially seems far too sturdy, too proletarian for Elyot and his understated performance sometimes throws the play's inner motor off but he does suggest the core of doubt under the witty banter and he made the fight scenes quite believable - this Elyot certainly makes you believe that he would "strike certain women, like gongs".
Kim Cattrall - who luckily did not receive the round of applause on her delayed entrance that I was dreading - also is hardly the brittle, angular and waspish Amanda of tradition. She possessed a worldly air that made you believe her distrust of convention and 'the done thing'. Her Amanda fully makes you understand how both Elyot and Victor would want this maddening, erratic woman as their own. I enjoyed her performance very much.

The hapless Sibyl and Victor - who by Coward's own admission are only there as skittles to be knocked down and put back up again are played by Lisa Dillon and Simon Paisley Day.

If Lisa Dillon didn't totally convince as Sibyl it's maybe because she is too intelligent a performer to fully convince as a prattling ninny. Simon Paisley Day followed up his scene-stealing role as brother Ed in last year's ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE with a delightful turn as the hopelessly out-of-his-league Victor. While hitting all the obviously comic moments with aplomb - the things he can do with a vowel sound - he also managed to suggest the sadness behind the buffoonery when he haltingly suggested that he would let Amanda divorce him to save any scandal - as if Amanda would mind!Rob Howell's designs were suitably lavish for Amanda's Paris flat and how the triple
-sphere upright goldfish tank stays in one place is beyond me.

I cannot recommend this production enough. It has the wit and panache one would hope but also the sadness behind the frivolity which can make a line like “Let’s be superficial and pity the poor philosophers, let’s blow trumpets and squeakers, and enjoy the party as much as we can, like very small, quite idiotic school-children” quite heartbreaking.