The Philadelphia Story

Play by Phillip Barry. 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 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, which has been adapted into the stage musical High Society.

Original West End London Production at the Duchess Theatre in 1949

1st West End London Revival 2005 at the Old Vic Theatre in 2005

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.

Original West End London Production 1949

Opened 1 December 1949, Closed 11 February 1950 at the Duchess Theatre

The original cast featured Hugh Sinclair as 'C. K. Dexter Haven', Robert Beatty as 'Macaulay (Mike) Connor', Margaret Leighton as 'Tracy Lord', Meriel Forbes as 'Elizabeth (Liz) Imbrie', Wilfrid Hyde White as 'William (Uncle Willie) Tracey', Ann Codrington as 'Margaret Lord', Anthony Forwood as 'George Kittredge', Percy Marmont as 'Seth Lord', Ann Stephens as 'Dinah Lord', John Dodsworth as 'Alexander (Sandy) Lord', and Trevor Reid as 'Dr Parsons', with Molly Gay as 'Elsie', Zena Howard as 'May', Richard Pearson as 'Mac', and Waldo Sturrey as 'Thomas'.

Directed by Harold French, with designs by Anthony Holland.

1st West End London Revival 2005

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

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

The cast featured Kevin Spacey as 'C.K. Dexter Haven' (from Tuesday 3 May to Saturday 18 June, and Monday 8 August to Saturday 3 September), Adrian Lukis as 'C.K. Dexter Haven' (from Monday 20 June to Saturday 6 August), DW Moffett as 'Macaulay (Mike) Connor', Jennifer Ehle as 'Tracy Lord', Lauren Ward as 'Elizabeth (Liz) Imbrie', Nicholas Le Prevost as 'William (Uncle Willie) Tracey', Julia McKenzie as 'Margaret Lord', Richard Lintern as 'George Kittredge', Oliver Cotton as 'Seth Lord', Tululah Riley as 'Dinah Lord', Damien Matthews as 'Alexander (Sandy) Lord', and Tim Beckmann as 'Dr Parsons', with Claire Adams as 'May', Laura Brook as 'Elsie', Colin Haigh as 'Thomas', Jeff Peterson as 'Edward', Eben Young as 'Mac', and Lucy-Anne Holmes as 'the Maid'

Directed by Jerry Zaks, with sets by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Tom Rand, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, and sound by Fergus O'Hare.

Kevin Spacey's West End theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Ben Cook' in David Grindley's West End Premiere of Dennis McIntyre's National Anthems at the Old Vic Theatre in 2005; 'Theodore Hickman' in Howard Davies' revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the Almeida Theatre, and transfer to the West End's Old Vic Theatre in 1998; and 'Jamie Tyrone' in Jonathan Miller's revial of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Haymarket Theatre in 1986.

Adrian Lukis' London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Leo' (Lev Levovich) in Jack Hofsiss' West End Premiere of James Goldman's Tolstoy at the Aldwych Theatre in 1996; 'Thomas Kyd' in Bill Alexander's production Peter Whelan's School of Night at the Barbican Pit Theatre in 1993; and 'Oliver' in David Thacker's revival of William Shakespeare's As You Like It at the Barbican Theatre in 1993.

Jennifer Ehle's London stage credits include playing the roles of 'Annie' in David Leveaux's revival of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing at the Donmar Warehouse in 1999, and transfer to the Albery Theatre in 2000; and 'Elmire' in Peter Hall's revival of Moliere's Tartuffe, in an adaptation by Ranjit Bolt, at the Playhouse Theatre in 1991.

Nicholas Le Prevost's West End stage credits include playing the roles of 'Bertie' in Stuart Burge's West End Premiere of Ayub Khan-Din's Last Dance at Dum Dum at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1999; and 'Etienne' in Peter Hall's revival of Georges Feydeau's Mind Millie For Me, adapted by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall from Occupe-toi d'Amelie (Keep an Eye on Amelia), at the Haymarket Theatre in 1996.

Julia McKenzie's London theatre credits include playing the roles of 'Kitty Dean' in Peter Hall's revival of the Edna Ferber and George S Kaufman comedy The Royal Family at the Haymarket Theatre in 2001; 'Ruella' in Alan Ayckbourn's West End Premiere of his play Communicating Doors at the Gielgud Theatre in 1995; 'Mrs. Lovett' in Declan Donnellan's revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre, and Lyttelton Theatre, in 1993; 'The Witch' in Richard Jones' West End Premiere of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods at the Phoenix Theatre in 1990; and 'Miss Adelaide' in Richard Eyre's revival of Frank Loesser's musical Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1982.

"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... 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... In short, The Philadelphia Story is everything a comedy should be." The Sun

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.