Theatre review: Design for Living, Old Vic, London

Design for Living by Noel Coward
Old Vic Theatre

Tom Burke, Lisa Dillon, Andrew Scott. Photo by Manuel Harlan
When Noël Coward wrote Design for Living in the early 1930s, he was forced to premier it on Broadway as it was banned from the London stage for six years because of its risqué subject matter. It is a sexually charged story of Leo the playwright, Otto the artist and Gilda, the woman they both love. In this new production at the Old Vic, director Anthony Page has brought out the bisexuality of the two male leads, making it explicit that they are not only in love with Gilda but with each other.

Otherwise, the play retains the sharp wit that Coward is renowned for, which is exploited to the full by the accomplished cast. Andrew Scott’s Leo is mercurial and, at times, petulant, spitting out his lines like a frustrated child. He is matched by Tom Burke’s Otto who is more solid but can be just as child-like when his needs are not met. The two actors make the most of the opportunities for comedy when Leo and Otto get drunk on brandy and “armadildo” sherry, displaying a real double-act chemistry between the actors.

Despite the “veneer” of comedy, the production emphasises the darker morality of the play, with the characters struggling over the unconventional ménage a trois that they long for. Lisa Dillon’s Gilda brings an emotional depth to her ongoing battle over her real feelings, while their friend Ernest, played by Angus Wright, represents the older values, shifting from parent-like tolerance to angry disapproval.

Amateur Stage magazine

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