Review: Design For Living at the Maidment Theatre

By Shannon Huse

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Each new generation thinks it has invented sex and decadence, but Noel Coward's Design for Living is a witty reminder of the folly of this notion.

His comedy of manners still has the power to provoke, thanks to an unconventional love triangle of two men and one woman in which the problem is not lopsided unrequited love, but that each loves and lusts after the other too much.

Design for Living follows vivacious interior designer Gilda as she leads playwright Leo and painter Otto on a merry dance of love across continents.

In bohemian Paris and stately London, they try to resist each other, but it's in New York that they settle on their own design for living as suggested by the play's title.

Noel Coward's dialogue is delightful but dense, and it's a challenge for any actor to take such tricky lines and deliver them with throw-away ease.

Thankfully, the three leads, Lisa Chappell, Richard Edge and Curtis Vowell, have the acting chops for the task. While a little slow to warm up, they hit their straps in the second act and by the play's finale are galloping to a fabulous finish.

One of the great pleasures of this production is watching the trio toss about Coward's wonderful dialogue like so many sparkling baubles.

Lisa Chappell makes a lithe, lovely and just a little bit loopy Gilda, whose search for love and respect on her terms is at the heart of the play. She has the unenviable task of easing the audience into Coward's world and then having to hold its affection throughout.

At first I felt she was a little over the top but soon realised it was right for Coward's mannered world, and by the end she won me over with true leading-lady style.

Richard Edge and Curtis Vowell make fine leading men adept at handling the dramatic and comedic demands of the script. The drunk scene in which they consummate their love for each other is a highlight.

The supporting cast are just wonderful, creating many lovely moments in even the smallest of roles. Most enjoyable was Cameron Rhodes' meltdown in the final act where his closeted Earnest halts his moral outrage for the briefest of seconds so he can take a sly perve at the leading men's bottoms.

Liesha Ward Knox was delightful as the naive Helen Carver, wonderfully out of her depth in the face of Leo and Otto's sophisticated but snippy social chatter.

Bronwyn Bradley's befuddled Miss Hodge and her haughty Grace Torrence were bang on, and Andrew Ford was equally versatile as Mr Birbeck, the put-upon British journalist, and Henry Carver, the brash but disapproving American.

The design team delivers to a high standard. Set designer Robin Rawstorne creates period-perfect rooms, and his furnishings suggest the changing interior lives of the characters.

Equally lovely are Elizabeth Whiting's costumes, making all the ladies look gorgeous and the men dapper. Like Coward's elegant dialogue, these clothes make you long for a more sophisticated time when people dressed for dinner and men asked if an event was black or white tie rather than choosing between three-quarter and cargo pants.

Lighting designer Brad Gledhill wanted to amplify the design features and bring the worlds alive - which he does well.

Director Roy Ward has pulled together a high-quality, cohesive production that never strikes a wrong note.

Not only playful but also sexy, this production highlights the power of romance from a stolen glance and exploratory caress to a passionate embrace.

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