The delight of Design

Design for Living (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

October 19 – November 10

I am always going to prefer a play that doesn’t need to dress itself up to convince me of how clever it is, so given that all the pre-season talk of Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” has been focussed on its frocks and glamour, my anticipatory hopes of loving it were, admittedly, not high. Thankfully though, the English playwright’s witty dialogue is a ‘wink and a smile ’ winner. Indeed, it is, frightfully gay frolic, in the old-fashioned sense of the word with an Oscar Wilde deliciousness to its witty banter and observations.

Coward’s 1932 play focuses on three friends and artists. Initially, interior designer Gilda (Kellie Lazarus) is living with her beau, a painter named Otto (Jason Klarwein), but has had an affair with playwright Leo (Tama Matheson) who happens to be their good friend and Otto’s former boyfriend. Calling the three lead characters flawed would be an understatement; they are quite awful people. Despite her bohemian beginnings, Gilda, particularly is very much like Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan in the way she hides from reality behind the veneer of money and tongue-in-cheek manners. So while they may profess to love each other, the legitimacy of their proclamations is questionable.

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Even though the relationship around which the ménage-a-trois comedy is based is complicated and confusing, “Design for Living” is a terribly amusing delight due in large part to the performances of its two male leads. Jason Klarwein is highly entertaining as Otto; his energy is sustained and infectious. Though he has a David Wallamsish flare for the dramatic, his comedic timing is spot on. And Tama Matheson is hilarious as floppy-fringed Hugh Grantish Englishman. When paired together, they produce a palatable energy on the stage that endears the production above just its words, word play and wit to be a true celebration of Coward’s signature froth and bubble style. This is enhanced by Director Wesley Enoch’s fidelity to the text’s original structure of three acts with two intermissions, each announced by closing of the house curtain and delightful musical introductions, as enhancements of the nostalgic appeal of a production so firmly rooted in its time.

It seems that QTC may have saved the best until last when it comes to their 2013 season and it was wonderful to see some of Brisbane’s favourite performers within the supporting cast, including Bryan Probets and Fez Faanana of Polytoxic fame. Bring on 2014 I say!

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