DESIGN FOR LIVING
by Noel Coward.
Old Vic The Cut SE1 8NB To 27 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 11 Oct 11 (+Touch Tour 6pm).
Captioned 7 Oct.
Runs: 3hr Two intervals.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7628. (£2.50 transaction fee – does not apply to supporters of The Old Vic),
Review: Carole Woddis 21 September.
Brilliant – and it knows it.
Noel Coward’s Design for Living was written at the height of his powers, in 1933. Behind him lay Private Lives (1930). Ahead of him Blithe Spirit (1941) and Present Laughter (1943).
Design for Living shows Coward prepared to take on stuffy bourgeois convention with a vengeance. Even today, in our post-permissive society, a ménage a trios is regarded with something close to prurient alarm.
Originally written for Coward’s great friends, the Lunts (Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne), the Broadway Golden couple of their day, the play is a comedy that luxuriates in its own vices. Coward’s satire ensures an audience is both delighted by its wit and yet sympathetic towards a trio of Bright Young Things determined to create society on their own terms.
Otto, Gilda and Leo love each other and seem unable to live without each other. Private Lives, too, played on this theme of egotistical selfishness with the reckless Amanda and Elyot. But whereas in the earlier play, Coward allowed some critique of their hedonistic lifestyle, Design for Living seems to end on queasy endorsement. Coward called the ending `equivocal’.
In Anthony Page’s handsome, ritzy revival (Lez Brotherston creates sumptuous London and New York apartments), three of the brightest young stars in the current acting firmament go through their paces.
A little lightweight in comparison with Sean Mathias’s memorable 1994 Donmar production (with a pulsatingly dangerous Rachel Weisz, Paul Rhys and Clive Owen), Lisa Dillon’s Gilda, sleek in ivory silk, cuts a nervy, emotionally fragile figure, while Tom Burke’s Otto is by turns sorrowful and sharp to Andrew Scott’s Leo – quick as a whippet and twice as immature. Both have their moments of scene-stealing – in particular a brilliantly choreographed drunk scene after Gilda has walked out.
But almost everyone has a chance to grab the limelight including Maggie McCarthy as Miss Hodge, the household help and Angus Wright as Gilda’s unfortunate, stuffily conventional and briefly married spouse, Ernest.
But frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t want to spend much more time with these posturing prima donnas. The play feeds wondrously into our own celebrity conscious times. It entertains divinely. And it is utterly self-regarding.
Gilda: Lisa Dillon.
Ernest Friedman: Angus Wright.
Otto: Tom Burke.
Leo: Andrew Scott.
Miss Hodge: Maggie McCarthy.
Mr Birbeck/Henry Carver: John Hollingworth.
Photographer: Matthew Gammie.
Grace Torrence: Nancy Crane.
Helen Carver: Maya Wasowicz.
Matthew: Edward Dede.
Director: Anthony Page.
Designer: Lez Brotherston.
Lighting: David Hersey.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.