Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Design For Living Review

Design For Living by Noel Coward
The Old Vic SE1
Survival of the Wittiest

What an unexpectedly dark (but very funny) writer Noel Coward turns out to be. And quite a deconstructionist as well.  TLT was amazed to hear her own thoughts about Design For Living’s first act echoed in some second act lines as one character describes how to construct a play! Written in 1932, this has the “can’t live with her, can’t live without her” theme TLT noted in Private Lives written two years earlier. Except this time instead of a couple, there is a risqué trio and the play ends in complete freefall. Otto (Andrew Scott), Leo (Tom Burke), and Gilda (Lisa Dillon, last seen in Private Lives), an artist, a playwright and an interior designer respectively are the eventual ménage a trois. TLT doesn’t think it is imagination (especially when another deconstructionist line backs up this interpretation) that Noel Coward is actually an intensely political writer with razor-sharp hilarious shifting alliances and incremental slapstick becoming prescient murmurs of foreboding about the world’s rocky situation. Design For Living is not as  tidy as Private Lives. The audience's gasps during the visceral third act confirmed for TLT it is more like a ship zig-zagging on increasingly unstable nasty seas before an impending iceberg beyond the final curtain. All kudos to director Anthony Page, the lead actors, gangly Angus Wright, as Gilda’s cut-adrift-without-a-lifebelt spouse Ernest Friedman, and the rest of the cast for getting under the skin of this capricious play in a preview performance around three hours long.  Alongside great sets from Lez Brotherston, a very modern surprising shift of sympathies and sheer spite elevate a comedy of manners and farce into something much, much more. TLT gives another green light to The Master.

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