Monday, 2 November 2015

Design for Living - Noel Coward. Old Vic, London September 2010.

A great romantic comedy set around three principal characters, Gilda (Lisa Dillon), Otto (Tom Burke) and Leo (Andrew Scott). Gilda is an interior designer and is in a relationship with a painter, Otto. She previously was intimate with Leo, an author, and Leo and Otto are great friends. The fourth main character  in the play is their art dealer friend, Ernest Friedman (Angus Wright).

The play opens in Otto's studio in Paris. Ernest is excited because he has obtained a new Matisse painting, and he wants to show it to Otto. Gilda advises that Otto is ill in bed, Ernest asks Gilda why she hasn't married Otto, and her reply is that she whilst she loves him, she would find being legally tied to him as "repellent".

Ernest updates her on the fortunes of Leo, who is apparently making a success of his life in New York, but has returned home and is staying at the very stylish The George V hotel. Whilst the conversation is in full flow, Otto enters from the street carrying a case, and it is clear he has been travelling, not ill as Gilda has suggested. Ernest leaves with Otto to visit Leo. In transpires that Leo has not spent the night at the hotel, he has spent it with Gilda! On Otto's return, Leo and Gilda tell him that they have spent the night together. Otto, understandably is furious, and leaves in a great temper.

Act two continues the ménage a trios story some 18 months later. Leo and Gilda are living together in Leo's flat in London. Leo's plays are very successful, and during an interview with a journalist, Leo remarks that he finds success a rather shallow affair.  In the next scene, Gilda is chatting to her housekeeper and asks if she should marry Leo, when she is surprised to find Otto standing on her doorstep, who too has become successful in New York! Otto is invited to stay, although Leo is not at home!

Ernest calls on Gilda the next day, and Gilda announces she is leaving Leo and departs with Ernest. Leo returns home to find his friend Otto has stayed the night with Gilda, but that has left them both, and so the two drown their sorrows in the way two close friends would!

Two years down the line and we are now in Ernest's New York apartment. Gilda has become and is throwing a party. Ernest is away and Otto and Leo gate-crash the party. The next morning Ernest returns to find Otto and Leo at home and wearing his pyjama's. He believes the whole three sided affair between Gilda, Otto and Leo disgusting and storms out in a fury, whilst the three protagonists of the play fall rapturously together weeping with laughter.

Design for Living is a riotously, darkly, romantic comedy written with perfect proportion and balance. It is a fast paced, slick tongued piece of writing with some amusing quips and one-liners, despite the some times annoying condescension shown by the characters to their "inferiors".
There's a symmetry in each character going to New York and becoming successful. As each character goes away, another arrives just in time to throw disruption back into the mix. Gilda is clearly unhappy and restless; not sure what she wants from either life or love and therefore plays this femme fatale who can capture any mans heart. Leo is a pampered individual but is really a child in a mans body, prone to throwing tantrums. Otto too has his issues, and whilst not as child-like as Leo, he constantly seeks the emotional support of Gilda and Leo as he is indulged and cosseted in this tale of dependence, obsession and love.

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