Private Lives, Vaudeville Theatre, West End

ALTHOUGH first performed 80 years ago, Noel Coward's sophisticated comedy of manners Private Lives remains in fabulously rude health.

Coward famously sketched out his play, about a divorced couple who get back together again, during a period of convalescence and wrote the final draft in just four days. It was conceived as a vehicle for himself and actress Gertie Lawrence and has since enjoyed many a revival with star pairings over the years.

Its latest in the West End with Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City fame and Matthew Macfadyen, perhaps best known for playing Tom Quinn in the first three series of Spooks, shows Coward's octogenarian play to be as sprightly as ever, where the verbal banter is every bit as crisp as the starched wing collars.

Its scenario, of divorced Elyot and Amanda who discover they are honeymooning with their new spouses in the same hotel, and in adjacent rooms, is as agonising a situation as it is hilarious.

Director Richard Eyre's production unashamedly focuses on the farce, especially in the second act played out in Amanda's decadent Parisian love nest. As passions and jealousies mount, so the cushions start flying and the apartment is trashed, goldfish bowl and all.

Cattrall, who had to acquire an English accent for the role, simply sizzles. Her success lies in capturing just the right balance between real character and comic caricature, and she has spot on comic timing.

By contrast, Macfadyen's performance is, as Amanda says of Norfolk, very flat and ultimately disappointing. While he brings a modern interpretation to the role, he does not have the deft touch for comedy that makes Cattrall such a stand out. Consequently, the sexual frisson between the couple, and their love hate relationship, is not always entirely convincing.

Private Lives runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until May 1.