The Philadelphia Story

Previewed 3 May 2005, Opened 10 May 2005, Closed 3 September 2005 at the Old Vic Theatre in London

A major revival of Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story in London starring Jennifer Ehle, Kevin Spacey and Julia McKenzie and directed by Jerry Zaks.

Rich, haughty and spoilt, Tracy Lord is about to get married for the second time, to the solid but stuffy George Kittredge. But she's reckoned without Macaulay Connor, a reporter who's been sent to cover her wedding in the country near Philadelphia, and her quick-thinking, free-drinking first husband C K Dexter Haven. The presence of both men at her pre-nuptial party, the collision of the volatile emotions of the trio, combined with a drunken midnight swim, provokes Tracy into learning some painful lessons, and taking an unaccustomed look into her own heart.

Phillip Barry's delicious and sparkling comedy of manners and character takes a critical but affectionate look at the values and behaviour of the American ultra-rich. The Philadelphia Story is a compelling mixture of wit, satire and romance, with a freewheeling heroine who delights, exasperates and moves us in equal measure.

The cast for The Philadelphia Story features Jennifer Ehle as 'Tracy Lord' along with Kevin Spacey as 'CK Dexter Haven' (except 20 June to 6 August), Julia McKenzie, Nicholas Le Prevost, Oliver Cotton, Richard Lintern, Damien Matthews, DW Moffett, Tululah Riley and Lauren Ward. The role of 'CK Dexter Haven' will be played by Adrian Lukis from 20 June to 6 August. The production is directed by four-times Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks with set designs by John Lee Beatty, costume designs by Tom Rand, lighting by Hugh Vanstone and sound by Fergus O'Hare. The Philadelphia Story was memorably filmed by George Cukor in 1940, with James Stewart and Cary Grant starring alongside Katherine Hepburn. The musical version by Cole Porter, filmed as High Society, had Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the leading roles.

"This is an evening of brittle, sophisticated laughter, sharpened up with irony: rather like a cocktail with a fraction too much of Angostura bitters. I'm not surprised Cole Porter turned Philip Barry's 1939 comedy into a musical film. It has all the required ingredients: style, suave humour, a sly sense of character and a gloss of social awareness that it wears slightly apologetically... Jerry Zaks directs with high-precision timing, and the 24-carat cast includes Julia McKenzie, Nicholas Le Prevost and Oliver Cotton. A treat for post-election blues." The Sunday Times

"Jerry Zaks's production is fluent enough, but can’t hide the fact that Barry makes too little of his most promising comic situation, the pretence to the intrusive journo that Tracy’s bottom-pinching uncle is actually her father; but then it’s not well motivated in the first place. Julia McKenzie, Nicholas Le Prevost and others add lustre to the evening, but only Ehle is truly excellent. Whatever the cavils, she’s an Artemis with a bit of Amazon in her heart — and, it emerges, a touch of Dionysus in her soul." The Times

"It's likely that this glossy, elegant, expensive revival of The Philadelphia Story will prove the first real smash hit Spacey has achieved in his troubled, year-long management of the Old Vic... The current Old Vic cast under their Broadway director Jerry Zaks, achieve near-perfect comic timing, but class and style are less easily taught across 60 years, and Jennifer Ehle has a tough time banishing memories of Hepburn in the 1940 movie... But along the way there are some splendid performances, not least from Spacey himself as the husband and Julia McKenzie as the mildly befuddled mother of the bride." The Daily Express

"The Philadelphia Story revived Katherine Hepburn's career... She casts a long shadow, but Jennifer Ehle, all pink and gold and exuding noblesse oblige in her satin evening pyjamas, dismisses Hepburn's ghost with a shake of her supershiny hair... Kevin Spacey as her first husband, C. K. Dexter Haven, circles puck-like in her orbit, jabbing in wisecracks at the 'virgin goddess'. In a play like this, such a woman must come off her pedestal, but the landing is soft. And respectability in the guise of morality is upheld, since the price of her tumble is a barely-sinful 'two kisses and a rather late swim'. A delightful evening of urbane entertainment, delicious as a glass of champagne." The Sunday Telegraph

"He may not be as suave or handsome as Cary Grant, or as laid-back as Bing Crosby, but Kevin Spacey can act the pants off both of them. In the role played originally on film by Grant and then by Crosby, Spacey's as cool as the character's colour-coordinated clothes - his socks match the blue of his shirt. And despite being buffeted by the critics, the movie star's first, sell-out season as artistic director of The Old Vic ends on a creative high... Tracy Lord's Philadelphia wedding plans are complicated by the arrival of first husband Dexter Haven (kevin Spacey) and a reporter and photographer from a scandal magazine. Jennifer Ehle also follows in illustrious footsteps as the spoilt Tracy - the role was written for Katharine Hepburn. But Jennifer, although as waspish as Kate in the delivery of some lacerating put-downs, wisely sets out to make the part her own as Tracy learns about humility. Lauren Ward, as Destiny magazine's witty snapper, and Nicholas Le Prevost, with eyes constantly twinkling as the lecherous Uncle Willie, also shine as Tracy and Dex discover love the second time around. When talking about the True Love, the boat on which they first honeymooned and a hit song for Crosby and Grace Kelly - Tracy recalls, 'My, she was yar... which means easy to handle, quick to the helm... everything a boat should be.' In short, The Philadelphia Story is everything a comedy should be." The Sun

Philip Barry was born in 1896 in Rochester, New York to middle-class parents of Irish descent, and he started writing at the age of nine. Educated at Yale, he enrolled on the famous English 47 Workshop at Harvard directed by George Pierce Baker, who helped to launch the careers of Eugene O'Neill, George Abbott and SN Behrman. Rejected by the army when America entered the war because of poor eyesight, he worked in London in the code department of the US Embassy. In 1922 he married his childhood sweetheart Ellen Semple, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer who gave the couple a house in New York and a villa in Cannes, where they became friends with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and other Riviera literati. Barry was fascinated by the aura of exclusivity that surrounded the privileged, cocktail-drinking classes, and spent as much time as he could amongst them. He always displayed impeccable taste, wearing the best hand-tailored clothes, and speaking with a distinctive Ivy League drawl. It was his familiarity and sympathy with those who belonged to it that enabled him to portray them with satirical accuracy and wry affection. The Philadelphia Story came at an opportune moment in his career, for his previous three plays had failed. His initial idea was for a story about a wealthy family who were to be the subject of an article in Fortune magazine. His wife suggested he set it in the fashionable Main Line area of Philadelphia, where, in contrast to New York and Chicago, 'old' money and 'old' families counted for everything. He based his main character in part on Hope Montgomery Scott, a racy, sporty and wealthy socialite belonging to an 'ancient' Philadelphia family.

The Philadelphia Story in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 3 May 2005, opened on 10 May 2005 and closed on 3 September 2005.