Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan in "Private Lives", London

A Theater-Goer’s Diary: “Private Lives”

I’ve been meaning for years to write a list of all the great theater I’ve seen in my life, thanks largely to my theater-loving dad. The production that’s on my mind this week, for obvious reasons, was one that I attended not with my dad but with his wife, Ruth, in London in 2001.

I had become aware of Alan Rickman when I saw Sense & Sensibility while on a visit to my friend Sue in Dallas in 1995 (I hadn’t seen Die Hard at that point – not my kind of movie). As soon as the film was over, Sue and I turned to each other and said: “Who was that?!?” We had shared tastes in men since high school, and Rickman was instant-crush material even in our 30s – that voice!

I had also seen him in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, but, though I thought he was better than anyone else in that movie, he hadn’t made a huge impression on me at the time, probably because I saw it dubbed into Italian. Years later I tried to watch it in English, and realized that the film is unbearable with Costner’s original voice and accent. (I should look for a Rickman-only edit on YouTube.)

I became a bit obsessed with Alan Rickman long before the Harry Potter films started coming out. I was mildly a fan of the books, but knowing that Rickman had been cast as Snape was a major motivation to see the films. I was not surprised that the rest of the world rapidly came to share my opinion.

It was a wonderful gift that Ruth managed to snag us tickets to the West End production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives starring Rickman and his long-time stage co-star, Lindsay Duncan. As we took our seats, I was amused to note that our fellow theater-goers were about 75% female.

The play opened on a magnificently raked set – an external view of a posh, balconied Art Deco hotel in Monte  Carlo. The first scene starts with Amanda, the female protagonist, talking to her second husband on her balcony. After a bit she is left alone, and the male protagonist, Elyot, in evening dress, walks onto his own adjacent balcony and stands looking out, as if to admire the view. Rickman paused there with a sardonic smile. He knew what to expect: a collective deep inhalation from the audience, somewhere between a gasp and a sigh.

From there, the show was off like a rocket; I leave it to you to read the play, including well-known lines such as: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” A few excerpts are available on video, mostly poor-quality bootlegs. I’d like to believe that the whole play was filmed and might someday be released, but, like Rickman and Duncan’s earlier Les Liaisons Dangereuses, I fear these great performances may be largely lost to history and fading memory.

photo from BT.com obituary of Alan Rickman

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