The Philadelphia Story - Spacey at the Old Vic in 2005
Sandy: It’s news darling. It’s news.
Margaret: Is there no such thing as privacy anymore?
Tracy: Only in bed, mother, and not always there
Completing Kevin Spacey’s first season as Artistic Director of the Old Vic, is a revival of Philip Barry’s 1938 play The Philadelphia Story inspired by the real life Philadelphia heiress Hope Montgomery Scott. It was filmed after the stage production with the same leading lady as on the stage, Katharine Hepburn, playing the part of Tracy Lord. Cary Grant took the part of her ex husband Dexter and James Stewart was the journalist, Mike Connor. Subsequent movie audiences will remember High Society, the musical of the film with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatara.
Spacey’s biggest challenge was to find a leading lady who could rival the celluloid memories of Hepburn and Grace Kelly. He chose well. Jennifer Ehle, daughter of Rosemary Harris, is a British actor known for her talent and her luminescent beauty. She wowed the nation when she appeared on BBC television as Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett to Colin Firth’s Mr D’Arcy. She was nominated for a 2000 Best Actress Tony (her mother was another contender for the same award that year) for her part in the revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.
John Lee Beatty has designed a beautifully furnished drawing room set complete with family portraits of men in wigs and ladies that could be by Gainsborough. The classical music completes this picture of affluence and taste that is the Lord home where the family members assemble for the marriage of Tracy (Jennifer Ehle) to industrial magnate, dull as ditchwater, George Kittredge (Richard Lintern). Tracy’s father, Seth Lord (Oliver Cotton) is expected home for the wedding. Unwelcome guests, reporter Macaulay Connor (DW Moffatt) and photographer, Liz Imbrie (Lauren Ward) from Destiny magazine have negotiated to cover the wedding in return for keeping quiet about Seth Lord’s sexual shenanigans. Tracy’s first marriage to CK Dexter Haven (Kevin Spacey) lasted less than a year but he has turned up at the house. The night before the wedding, champagne flows freely and after her father tells her that she “lacks an understanding heart” Tracy questions what she really wants from her life .
The first of the play’s three acts is all setting up, allowing the audience to sort out who is who in the Lord family. Tracy’s kid sister Dinah (Taluah Riley) amuses as she acts spoilt and talented for the reporters. There is prejudice on all sides. Tracy describes the reporters, “Watching every little mannerism, jotting down notes on how we sit, stand, talk, and even move. And all in that horrible, snide, corkscrew English.” Mike describes Tracy, “young, rich, rapacious American female.” and later claims “women like that bore the pants off me.” In the second act, Dexter and Tracy spar, Mike and Tracy find they have writing in common and Tracy hits the champagne. The third act is a delight, with Spacey and Ehle in tip top comic form as Tracy has to face up to her actions of the night before.
Spacey is a dapper Dexter, a man who knows what he wants. He’s smooth talking, fast thinking, elegantly turned out in black and white dogtooth check and two-tone black and white leather shoes. Ehle is almost too charming from the beginning. Her best scene is the morning after when the trail of incriminating objects tend to suggest that Mike might have been in her bedroom. Dexter describes her symptoms as “a feeling of fright accompanied by a headache”. And as she remembers the events of the evening, her eyes, heavy with a hangover, closed up until now, pop open in shock. As George is dispatched, he makes a sour prediction, “You are all on your way out.” George represents people, sneered at here, who have become rich and powerful through work rather than inheritance.
Tom Rand has had some fun in recreating late 1930s designs and poor Lauren Ward finds herself in some very strange frocks which seems to belie Liz Imrie’s supposed artistic ability or maybe they are just very avant-garde!
American Jerry Zaks has come to London to direct this play for the Old Vic. There is no doubt that The Philadelphia Story is well executed, beautifully dressed and designed. It is too an interesting study of the privileged lives of the rich before the Second World War, but the play seems not to have any really powerful message to justify its revival. It is essentially a drawing room comedy which was made into two great movies and a pleasant, undemanding night in the theatre.
The Philadelphia Story
Written by Philip Barry
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Nicholas Le Prevost
Director: Paul HartJerry Zaks
Set Designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Tom Rand
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Designer: Fergus o’Hare
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Closed to 6th August 2005
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Old Vic
on 10th May 2005