21st Jul2013

Private Lives – Theatre

by timbaros


The play Private Lives has more lives than a cat. Written by Noel Coward in the 1920s, it had its debut at London’s Phoenix Theatre in 1930 to rave reviews, and starred Coward and Laurence Olivier. The next year it opened on Broadway. 83 years later, Private Lives is still making the rounds, now at The Gielgud Theatre, and again, it is a hit.

The story is a very simple one. Newlyweds Elyot and Sibyl (Toby Stephens and Anna-Louse Plowman) are on a hotel balcony in Deauville talking about their future together, and discussing Elyot’s previous marriage. In the room next door to them are Amanda and Victor (Anna Chancellor and Anthony Calf), also newlyweds enjoying one of their first nights together. Separating both couples on the balcony is a small partition, and wouldn’t you know it: Elyot and Amanda used to be married, and in a very volatile relationship.

After arguing with their respective partners over very minor matters, Amanda spots Elyot on his balcony. Coy, shy and nervous at first, Amanda speaks to Elyot and not too long later, jumps over the partition to be with him. They share a drink, reminisce about their marriage, have a few laughs, and before you know it, they decide in a ‘will they or won’t they’ moment, to run off together to Paris where Amanda has a flat that her new husband knows nothing about.

Once in the flat, they act like honeymooners all over again, loving and laughing, and then arguing and fighting, just as they did when they were previously married. Finally, they have their biggest fight and things could not get any worse, and in walk Amanda and Victor. The fighting between Elyot and Amanda continues, and also ensues between Elyot and Sibyl and Victor and Amanda. Who is going to end up with whom? You have to wait until the end to find out.

Considering that Private Lives has played in the West End several times in the past 13 years (most recently at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2010 with Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen), this version of the play, a transfer from the Chichester, has opened to rave reviews and will be talked about for years to come.

Chancellor upstages everyone in the cast; she can tell a joke, pout when needed, give out a big laugh when necessary, and dance and flail her arms memorably. Her chemistry with Stephens is very palpable, very real, that it makes it believable that she could fall in love with him all over again. Her eyes flutter, her gowns (and robe) drape over her like she is a star, and a star she is. Stephens is able, somewhat, to keep up with her, firstly as the man whose second wife is seven years younger than him, to believably falling back in love with his ex-wife, smouldering in one moment and then vile the next. Calf and Plowman are second fiddles to the main two actors. They are able enough, but this is Chancellor’s show, and they know it.

The set design, by Anthony Ward, is luscious. The balcony in the first act is gorgeous, but when the play switches to the Paris flat, we see exactly what we expect: a flat decorated in French style, from the checkerboard floor to the paintings on the wall, very detailed and lovely to look at. The script is funny, witty, dramatic; all you could ask for in a Noel Coward play.

Given the fact that everyone who watches this play has a great time, it should be no surprise Private Lives is still going strong, some 70 years after it began.


Review originally published by The American and copyright Blue Edge Publishing Ltd. – please click on this link to view

21st Jul2013

Behind the Candelabra – Film

by timbaros


Despite featuring Hollywood heavyweights Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra, just released in UK cinemas, was deemed ‘too much’ for release in US theatres. It premiered on pay cable channel HBO at the end of May, where it is still showing.

Director Steven Soderbergh came up with the idea for the film in 2000, which is based on Scott Thorson’s 1988 memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace. Douglas and Damon signed on in 2008 as Liberace and Thorson, respectively. But as no Hollywood studio wanted to finance it, it was picked up by HBO and shot on a budget of $23 million over thirty days in 2012.

The film is not a complete biography of both of them, but focuses more on Thorson’s relationship with Liberace. It was a secret relationship, as Liberace tried to pass himself off as straight to keep up his appeal with his legion of female fans. It was not until after their relationship ended (1982) that Scott sued Liberace, filing a $113 million palimony lawsuit against him. They settled out of court for a measly $75,000.

Liberace died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 67, after reconciling with Thorson earlier that year. Liberace’s doctor said his death was caused by heart disease, though later, the Riverside, California coroner stated there had been a deliberate attempt to hide the actual cause of death, and it was ruled that the star died due to complications of AIDS. In life and even in death, Liberace did not want to make it known that he was gay.

Michael Douglas plays Liberace to perfection, with the flamboyance and flair of the man himself. And Damon is perfect as Thorston, with blonde hair, a handsome face, a muscular body, and a touch of youthful innocence.

Behind the Candelabra starts out as we see Thorson, living with his adopted parents in California, going to see Liberace perform in Las Vegas with a mutual friend, Hollywood producer Bob Black (Scott Bakula). Going backstage after the show, Thorson is introduced to Liberace, who immediately takes a liking to the young man. Liberace invites Thorson over to his opulent and luxurious home, inhabited by a soon-to-be former live-in lover, a few maids, a few dogs, and a very effeminate male servant wearing tight white jeans, who offers Thorson pigs in a blanket while holding the tray near his crotch.

Liberace’s interest peaks even more when Thorson tells him that he likes to be around animals and wants to be a veterinarian. One of Liberace’s dogs is sick, so Thorson offers to get some medication that will cure the dog. And this kicks off their relationship. Soon enough, Liberace asks Thorson to move in with him, to become his right hand man, companion, chauffeur, stage hand, and most importantly, lover.

During their tumultuous six-year relationship (1977-1983), Liberace has Thorson undergo plastic surgery so he looks more like him, and goes under the knife himself so he looks younger. (Rob Lowe plays the plasticky plastic surgeon in a performance you will likely not forget!). He also has Thorson appearing with him on stage, as well as selling souvenirs to the fans. Being with one of the world’s leading entertainers and living the millionaire lifestyle of expensive clothes, flashy jewelry, while realizing that Liberace still has an eye for the cute, younger boys, causes Thorson to turn to drugs. His dependence on cocaine and erratic behaviour helps bring on the end of their relationship.

If it weren’t for Douglas’ and Damon’s performances, this film could have wound up as just another film for a gay audience. But they both completely pull off their roles, especially Douglas, who has experience playing a gay man (he was in an episode of Will & Grace where he played a gay cop who takes a liking to Will). Douglas is Liberace, right down to his lisp, his facial expressions, his on stage presence, and his eyes. His whole demeanor is Liberace.

And indeed, Douglas and Damon do kiss each other in this film, many times, and they have several scenes where both are in bed before and after a sex session, and they have quite a few naked hot tub sessions as well. (Luckily we don’t get to see Douglas’s arse, but are gifted with a few scenes of seeing Damon naked from behind.) A very sharp, not-too-serious, and semi-dramatic by screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, with surprise appearances by Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother and Dan Ackroyd as his manager, round out an exceptionally good film.

As Liberace says in the film, “I love to give people a good time.”

Appropriately, Behind the Candelabra is a good time.