Okay, let’s get the tacky observations out of the way first; you know you want to know. Her skin is flawless, with a full range of facial expressions and natural, tiny crow’s feet. Her figure is toned and healthy and her hair a soft, natural-looking blonde. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that Kim Cattrall is completely stunning without any evidence of Botox, silicone or extensions.
She’s also utterly unlike Samantha Jones, her man-eating alter ego from HBO’s Sex and the City television series. Soft-spoken and gently gracious, Cattrall manages to appear interested and engaged after several hours of answering the same questions about her starring role in Noel Coward’s seminal comedy, Private Lives.
It’s Cattrall’s second turn as the sexy but feisty Amanda Prynne after scoring a solid hit with the role in the London production earlier this year (also directed by Richard Eyre). From here she heads across the border to make her mark on Broadway, and with a rapturous opening-night reaction by the Toronto audience, she’s well on her way to scoring a theatrical trifecta. It’s quite a departure from the world of Hollywood TV and film but one the Canadian-born actress clearly relishes.
“It’s a way of life, really, a whole different rhythm,” says Cattrall. “My whole day revolves around getting to the theatre, warming up, shaking out and running one or two passages to get my tongue working. I actually prefer it to film.
“I was trained in the theatre, and it was always the place I was drawn to in wanting to be an actor. I also think it’s more of an actor’s medium. In film and television, people hire you to play a certain role over and over because you do it well. But in the theatre, you have time and freedom to explore a role.”
And despite accolades, awards and gajillions of dollars, Cattrall can’t hide her enthusiasm about the circles within which she now travels.
“Sir Richard Eyre and Peter Hall, these were my idols,” she says. “They were mythical figures in my imagination of doing work in the theatre, and now they know my name, they come to see my plays, and they inquire about my availability. It’s a real pinch-me moment all the time.”
It’s hard to go wrong with a play like Private Lives. Coward’s gift of witty repartee is at its peak; bitchy asides, verbal – and occasionally physical – clashes abound as a divorced couple end up in side-by-side honeymoon suites at a posh hotel. Amanda and her ex-husband, Elyot Chase (played by Paul Gross), try to hide this unfortunate coincidence from their new spouses (Anna Madeley and Simon Paisley Day) but end up rekindling their passion and hightailing it toward illicit cohabitation in Paris.
Cattrall is perfect as flibbertigibbet Amanda, her British accent as flawless as her note-perfect comedic timing. Her rapport with Gross is really quite sexy, with believable friction and passion in equal abundance. Their back-and-forth is classic Coward: one minute hilariously cutting, the next ripe with real sexual tension. Gross hits his stride as the wickedly condescending Elyot in Act 2, even if he does occasionally veer into camp parody. Still, it’s a respectful performance that recalls Coward’s dry urbanity while adding a touch of believable butchness.
Madeley and Paisley Day are quite fun as foils for Cattrall and Gross, even if the roles are a little thankless. Coward himself described the characters as “extra puppets, lightly wooden ninepins, only to be repeatedly knocked down and stood up again,” but both have some great comedic moments as they first comfort, then clash, with each other.
The set, designed by Rob Howell, is magnificent, particularly Amanda’s art deco Parisian flat. The three-tiered globular aquarium, looking a little like an upside-down glass snowman filled with live goldfish, has to be seen to be believed.
But in the end, it’s Cattrall’s show, and she delivers in spades. She’s clearly at home acting on the theatrical stage and having a helluva fun time doing it.
“It’s just such fun,” she says, smiling broadly. “There’s this kind of Carole Lombard thing about Amanda that I love. She’s romantic and spontaneous, but she’s a bit goofy, too.
“And the show really is timeless. This battle of wills between the sexes has been going on since time began. It’s humanity. We like to think we change, but we don’t really change that much.”
Continues through Sun, Oct 30
The Royal Alexandra Theatre
260 King St W