A sort of theatre related Ben Whishaw post
Play with a health warning: The Aliens, Bush Theatre

Design for Living, Old Vic

Images-1Design for Living isn't about a menage a trois so much as a love triangle in which none of the party can quite live with or without each other.

It's not a subject that raises much of an eyebrow in 2010, although I'm sure Jeremy Kyle would have a go, but when it was written in the 1933 it was a bit of hot potato and no London theatre would touch it for several years forcing writer, one Mr Noel Coward to look to Broadway. 

So how does the story of woman who doesn't believe in marriage and brazenly lives in sin translate for a modern audience? Well without the shock element of the subject matter you are left with a funny character piece.

Gilda (Lisa Dillon) is a woman of independent means who loves two men - Leo (Andrew Scott) a writer and Otto (Tom Burke) an artist. She is drawn into romantic liaisons with one then the other, her interest seeming to wax and wane as she goes on a voyage of self discovery and battles to come to terms with life rebelling against social conventions. It takes its toll making her neurotic, almost hysterical and prone to impulsive behaviour. 

And Leo and Otto are not much better at dealing with the freedom their lifestyle choice affords.

But when Gilda disappears leaving them identical notes, it is a wake up call for all three and they are finally forced to confront their feelings and how they want to live their lives. 

Design for Living isn't as consistently funny as say, Private Lives, it's Noel Coward going 'deep'. And the Old Vic has dug deep into it's stage design budget with not one, not two but three lavish sets representing three different apartments. They are all beautiful and exquisitely done - the final set drawing gasps from the audience as the curtain was raised.

The downside of this lavish stage dressing is it means two intervals* which takes a bit of sledge hammer to the plays legs just as it gets going.  This was the first preview and the running time clocked up a good 30 minutes over that estimated and it would benefit from a bit of tightening up.

And, the all the best scenes and laughs seem reserved for the second half of the play. For example, there is a superb drinking scene, which is brilliantly acted by Scott and Burke and would make an excellent drinking game in itself if you could sneak a bottle or two into the theatre. Indeed all three leads put in solid performances.

Design for Living has a good dose of Coward humour but ultimately Gilda, Leo and Otto feel just that little bit too removed to illicit empathy or maybe that's because we live in different times.

Rev Stan stars: tricky this because it's better than three but not quite a four

* I'm sure the West End Whingers will appreciate the extra Merlot time as well as the meal eaten on stage - cold ham and salad, followed by rice pudding and jam.

Related links:

Rehearsal room video interview with Tom Burke

BBC video interview with Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey and Lisa Dillon 

As usual upthewestend.com is aggregating reviews as the come in


Easy peasey lemon squeezy,  it's one of the reasons I wanted to see this, Andrew Scott who plays Leo played Ben Whishaw's lover in the superb Cock at the Royal Court last year.