Design for Living, Old Vic, London
Monday 20 September 2010
Three's company, two's a crowd in this 1933 Noël Coward comedy about an arty trio who wind up in a ménage à trois.
The last major London revival, 16 years ago at the Donmar Warehouse, was determined to scandalise, dragging every atom of subtext out of the closet and turning the play into a steamy manifesto in support of bisexual love.
There's nothing inexplicit or clenched about Anthony Page's new production, either, but it offers a similar interpretation more thoughtfully. For example, it takes it as read that the two men – Otto, the painter and Leo, the playwright – have enjoyed a long, deeply intimate relationship prior to the advent of Gilda, who is drawn to them equally. So, in her witty, finely shaded portrayal, Lisa Dillon emphasises the comedy of those agitated, insecure moments when Gilda feels less than total fulfilment in the alternating à deux set-ups, and a growing need to escape and establish herself as more than a male-bond-clinching muse.
Andrew Scott and Tom Burke have worked up a terrific rapport as Leo and Otto, the former's hilarious, tantrum-prone queeniness nicely contrasted with the handsome, floppy-haired surface conventionality of the latter. With two intervals to accommodate the opulent set changes that signal the trio's rise from Parisian garret to New York penthouse, the production feels its over-three-hours' length. But it's worth sticking the course for the splendid final act in which the two men, determined to win Gilda back from her respectable marriage, bamboozle a stuffy Manhattan soirée with an outrageous double-act of deadpan subversion.
I'm inclined to believe that the play is an unambiguous endorsement of the idea that the talented are a law unto themselves and I felt no need to revise that view as I watched Angus Wright's reproving husband reduced at the end to a fit of Basil Fawlty-strength apoplexy.
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