Coward's writing is consistently sharp and deliberate
I must begin by saying that my evening was made more amusing by the character sat in front of me, who had a Judy Finnigan-esque accident before the play started, exposing herself to most of the stalls. She howled throughout the entire first act, adding to the physical destruction of Amanda's Paris apartment by violently opening a bag of macaroons that showered the front stalls.
The play opens on adjoining balconies in a hotel in Normandy, where former husband-and-wife Amanda and Elyot are coincidentally honeymooning with their new partners. As they both begin to argue in post-marital bliss, they realise they are both still in love with one another and take the opportunity to run off together, leaving their confused spouses behind. It is this act which is always the most memorable, with the visual division of the two balconies and the mirroring scenes played firmly for laughs. Anthony Ward's elegant design revolves seamlessly to show the Amanda's 'small' flat in Paris, where we catch up on the action a week later and we watch the come down of their second honeymoon period.
Whilst Coward's writing is consistently sharp and deliberate, much of the success comes from the strength of the central performances, and the dynamic between the two couples. Toby Stephens plays Elyot with the perfect level of arrogance and egotism, and is matched by Anna Chancellor's overbearing and haughty Amanda. Her facial expressions alone are perfect, conveying the ridiculousness of the situation, with almost a wink to the audience who buy into it from the word go. Anthony Calf is a rather unforgiving Victor Prynne who you never really root for, and he looks uncomfortable next to Amanda from the get go. Anna-Louise Plowman smiles like a young Felicity Kendall, but appears too fragile and grating to really champion. As she begins her heated argument with Victor in the final act, you can't help wanting to follow suit and creep out of the hotel room with Amanda and Victor and leave them to it.
The pace never falters throughout all three acts, clocking in at just under two hours, but you are left exhausted by the excellent word play and careful handling of the text by Director Jonathan Church. New life is certainly breathed into this classic, but you can't help feeling the same level of recognition Amanda and Elyot share on their balcony which for some will invoke happy memories, and others an endless string of comparisons.