Thursday, October 28, 2010

A few days after hearing Stephen Sondheim deconstruct Noel Coward - and not in a good way - we were at the Old Vic seeing DESIGN FOR LIVING by the latter.
I had never seen the play before so was curious to finally get to see it, to say nothing of it balancing the year nicely having seen PRIVATE LIVES in February.

PRIVATE LIVES is a good reference point for the play as again it deals with lovers who can't live with each other but who also find it difficult to be apart. They are also potentially totally insufferable, Coward merely makes everyone they come into contact with cartoonishly boorish or silly. It helps having performers who can keep the shuttlecock of brittle comedy aloft and here the play is graced with three actors who, more or less, prove adept at this.As much as I enjoyed the production, the 2 hours 40 running time couldn't always keep momentum and there were noticeable longueurs in the first and second act, usually when it settled down to just two characters talking. Anthony Page's direction was as smooth as one would expect but it could have whipped along a little quicker in these scenes, the second act reunion of Gilda and Otto seemed to go on and on and on.

The love triangle between Gilda & Leo & Otto would appear to also include the chaps having had a relationship before they met her and Page ramps this up with hands held and a full-on snog. Not having seen the show before, I'm not sure how much is in the original stage directions although Coward certainly drops enough clues in the text.

Oddly enough the play, when produced initially in New York in 1933 with Coward, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, had no problems but in England the censor banned the play until 1939 with Rex Harrison playing Coward's role.

The mix-and-match lovers were led by Lisa Dillon's scintillating Gilda, effortlessly slinking around Lez Brotherston's sumptuous sets and displaying the maddening, quicksilver quality that Coward would surely have loved. The men didn't quite match her stylish turn but Andrew Scott showed a delightful comic touch as the temperamental playwright Leo - his sudden splenetic fits of rage were huge fun. Tom Burke however was only occasionally interesting.

Angus Wright's very tall and vocally ponderous 'straight man' to the trio of lovers literally over-tipped the balance of the scenes he was in - imagine The Addams Family's Lurch attempting high comedy. Maggie McCarthy, however, scored with each of her appearances as Leo and Gilda's maid in Act 2.All in all, it was an entertaining production of one of Coward's key plays.

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