The Old Vic's production of Noël Coward's provocative romantic comedy Design for Living opened last night (15 September 2010, previews from 3 September), marking the play's first appearance on a London stage in over 15 years.
From 1930s bohemian Paris to the dizzying heights of Manhattan society, the play charts a tempestuous love triangle that unravels between a vivacious interior designer, Gilda, playwright Leo and artist Otto - three people unashamedly and passionately in love with each other.
Old Vic associate Anthony Page directs Tom Burke, Lisa Dillon and Andrew Scott as the fateful threesome, and it continues to 27 November 2010.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - "Noël Coward’s 1933 ménage à trois, or 'disgusting three-sided erotic hotchpotch,' is as good as any of his better known plays and comes up fresh as paint in Anthony Page’s Old Vic revival ... Andrew Scott as Leo and Tom Burke as Otto make a winning double act, the first rising to temperamental falsetto hysteria, the second implacably charming and suave, both hilarious in the funniest, and best controlled drunk scene imaginable, their faces disintegrating in a rubbery mush; a sudden face slap, accidentally discharged, only compounds the reverie .. The boys flicker like moths round the flame of Lisa Dillon’s Gilda, a strong-headed woman in thrall to bohemianism, rather than the wild animal itself, but she plays with kittenish vivacity throughout."
Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) - "What one notices first about the play is its perfect symmetry. It starts in a Paris studio and clearly lays out the main lines of engagement: Gilda, an interior decorator, is living with the artist Otto, but is equally drawn to the playwright Leo ... It is perfectly possible to see the play as Coward's vindication of the privileged amorality of the artist and an attack on bourgeois stuffiness. But Page's production shows something more complex ... The real revelation lies in Angus Wright's portrait of Ernest. Normally he is played as the stuffed shirt and the spokesman for the moral majority. But, from the start, when he complains that Gilda's life is 'so dreadfully untidy', Wright proves the importance of being Ernest .. In short, this is a production that unearths Coward's moral ambivalence."
Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (four stars) - "There's a Noel Coward lyric, “Let’s live turbulently”, which could be a motto for this daring Thirties comedy. The success of Anthony Page’s revival of one of Coward’s most provocative plays has everything to do with its three central performances — especially the remarkable and, yes, turbulent chemistry between Tom Burke and Andrew Scott. The first act starts sluggishly... But there is much to savour ... In the Thirties the play was banned in Britain because its content was too outrageous ... It now seems less sensational but its fusion of passion and mischief remains striking ... Coward’s chosen title means the play sounds like a manifesto. It isn’t ... Dillon conveys Gilda’s brittle glamour, an appearance of steeliness beneath which flicker half-understood uncertainties ... the stellar acting makes Coward’s comic lines seem piercingly precise."
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - "You may not make the last train home after the Old Vic’s revival of Design For Living. It runs at well over three hours, with two intervals ... Like so many shows at the Old Vic, this production applies a varnish of chic modernity. This makes it memorable in some respects but unfaithful (rum word) in others ... This Otto certainly cuts a good contrast to Leo – but would he ever kiss him? Then there is the central part of Gilda, played here by Lisa Dillon. Not wildly interesting, or at least not until the strong finale, in which Angus Wright as the wronged Ernest has a tremendous moment ... The first act is chewy and the second is interminable. The end is worth seeing, train timetables permitting."
Libby Purves in The Times (five stars) - "To get this one right, you need three irresistible leads. The director, Anthony Page, has them, although the dazzle of Lisa Dillon as Gilda initially outshines her indispensable and inseparable lovers Otto and Leo. In the first interval a lugubrious male voice said, 'It’s her clothes I want to tear off, and I’m gay' ... The story of friends and lovers inextricably bound together in what the outsider husband dubs a 'disgusting three-sided erotic hotchpotch' still startles: their battle cry 'our lives are a different shape to yours' startles even now, in an age approving mainly a prim, serial monogamy gay and straight ... Not that one need philosophise. It’s just a terrific evening, studded with clever moments (glimpse which Matisse the art dealer Ernest holds in the opening scene: good joke) ... Perfect, all the way to Angus Wright’s Ernest indulging a final unmissable fury as the audience joins the terrible three in hysterics."