Review: Private Lives (Mirvish)

Mirvish Productions presents the comedy Private Lives featuring Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.

This star-studded play about a divorced couple who run into each other while both on honeymoon with their new spouses may seem dated, but be in for a pleasant surprise when you watch this version. Its modern sets and fantastic actors make this 1930 Noel Coward comedy feel brand new again.

Set in the glamorous French Riviera, the play begins on a hotel balcony. We are introduced to Elyot and Sybil, a newly married couple. On the balcony adjacent to theirs are Victor and Amanda, who are also in town for their honeymoon. Chaos and sparks ensue when Amanda, played by Kim Cattrall, and Elyot, played by Paul Gross, discover they are celebrating their nuptials right next door to their former spouses.

Cattrall and Gross are both prominent Canadian actors who have earned great success. Their talents translate very well onto the stage, and I was particularly impressed with Gross’ ability to capture a very debonair, traditional 1930s man.

I was caught off guard by Gross’ comedic timing and acting, and found that he performed the dialogue to his advantage, with crispness and momentum that made him stand out. He is a very underrated Canadian actor, considering we don’t see too much of him in the public eye (other than his recent role in Passchendale).

Cattrall, who starred in London’s sold-out West End production of this play, is charming and always a delight to watch. She’s funniest when there’s attitude involved; she is sophisticated but still playful, and I love that she can perform a character so smartly, but also with appeal. Her physical comedy was one of the play’s highlights for me, and I wish she used it more.

Noel Coward was an English playwright whose plays were known for witty dialogue and incredible back-and-forth banter. Private Lives is no exception. While I don’t like hearing fake British accents if I don’t need to hear them, the actors sounded superbly English, and did so without veering into annoying or cheesy territory.

The plays by Coward that I have seen involve a lot of arguing and shouting, especially among the romantically involved characters. But this play’s fight scenes take it to a better level. The characters really interact with the beautifully designed set and make good use of the props. I think this really helped the show along, since a two and a half hour dialogue-heavy play can feel a bit dull. Private Lives, however, didn’t feel too long or drawn out – it was just right.

The set design impressed both my theatre companion and I. It was very modern, interesting and quirky, while still full of relevance to the time period. For the costumes, I loved the males’ costumes but wasn’t too hot on the females’. Perhaps Cattrall and Madeley were not given more glamorous outfits so they wouldn’t distract the audience from their acting talent.

The script by Coward is old, yes – so don’t expect an incredibly avant-garde theatre experience. And there are some jokes that could be considered a little racist – some which I think should be taken out of the play. After all, this is 2011, not 1930. But this is a wonderful rendition of a very funny play, and I think the actors, the sets, and the physical comedy give the show freshness. Everyone involved in this production has made it virtually the best that this play can be.

So if you’ve ever wondered if a divorced couple can make love work the second time around, I highly suggest this play. It’s chic and funny, and you should definitely not miss it before it goes to Broadway. Cattrall and Gross are so good at making prim and proper feel bold and bad!


–       Private Lives runs from September 16th until October 30th at the Royal Alexandra Theatre

–       The theatre is located at 260 King Street West

–       The play runs from Tuesday-Saturday at 8PM, and Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday 2PM. There is no performance on Saturday September 17 at 2PM.

–       Tickets are available online

–       Box Office: 416 872-1212

One thought on “Review: Private Lives (Mirvish)”

  1. … from what i have read of coward’s work, the wittiness that coward is so revered for makes them so superficial and overwrought in some cases, that it’s tough to buy into the characters or story. i agree with you that “private lives” works, and is maybe the sterling example of coward’s longer work, because the premise is almost a giant witty joke, and so the characters can be taken as nothing than contrivances. … the big exception to coward’s work though, the play that gets the least recognition, and yet is — in my opinion — one of his strongest, is “still life,” a one-act play coward wrote

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