Design for Living

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

14/02/2008 - 03/01/2008

Production Details

A delicious summer cocktail with a twist.

Lisa Chappell stars in DESIGN FOR LIVING, Noël Coward’s sparkling comedy of manners about an impossible ménage à trois which opens Auckland Theatre Company’s 2008 season at the Maidment Theatre on February 14.

"It should be easy, you know. The actual facts are so simple. I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me. There now! Start to unravel from there." Leo

And unravel they do. From bohemian Paris of the 1930’s to the dizzying heights of Manhattan society, Gilda (Lisa Chappell), a vivacious interior designer, leads playwright Leo and artist Otto on a merry dance of love, lust and betrayal.

But who loves who the most? And can this trio, tipsy on champagne cocktails and the intoxicating effects of success, find anything resembling happiness?

"a giddy comedy of manners" – The Times

International awarding winning actress Lisa Chappell returns the New Zealand stage after a successful career in Australian television where she is best known for her role as Claire McLeod on McLEOD’S DAUGHTERS.

Winner of the Silver Logie for the Most Popular Actress on Australian Television in 2004, Chappell was also nominated for two Golden Logies for Best Actress on Australian Television in 2003 and 2004.

Chappell has just finished touring Australia in as Rita in EDUCATION RITA, a character she says was a brilliant warm up for Coward’s stunning use of the English language and his quick witted repartee. "Gilda is funny, intelligent, brave, decadent, hysterical and a rebel. Jolly good fun!" says Chappell.

"DESIGN FOR LIVING feels like it was written yesterday," says Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director Colin McColl, adding "Coward’s sparkling comedy is as fresh, funny and contemporary as ever.

"At the height of his success, Coward pushed the boundaries of what a respectable English playwright could hope to get away with. He smuggled some fairly outrageous ideas and characters on stage in the guise of glamorous, frivolous comedy," says McColl.

DESIGN FOR LIVING is a designers dream, lending itself to stylish sets and costumes which capture the glamour and energy of the 1930s.

New Zealand’s leading costume designer Elizabeth Whiting returns to Auckland Theatre Company refreshed and inspired after a two month jaunt to China.

"The characters are so stylish, sexy and slightly wild," says Whiting, "I have chosen fabrics with exquisite knits, that cling to the body but still have volume movement, the cut is long and covers the body but is fitted enough to reveal the body too, they’re alluring and teasing."

Robin Rawstorne, who will make his New Zealand design debut with DESIGN FOR LIVING, is an award winning designer, and has worked extensively in Europe in Television, Film, Theatre and Opera. He’s also no stranger to bohemian lifestyle in Paris having lived and worked there, "it’s great, it’s an energetic and cultural city. The life the characters lead is quite common; living in an amazing studio/apartment furnished with your current artwork and beautiful antique furniture you can just pick up off the street." 

"The trio are Aristocrats playing at being boheme" he says, "their lives are always in a state of flux and the set dressing picks up on their eccentric and eclectic tastes."

Sound designer Eden Mulholland is living a hectic artist’s life himself at the moment. As well as working on DESIGN FOR LIVING he has just performed with his band Motocade at the THE BIG DAY OUT and will also appear in Wellington as a dancer in Outlaw Creative’s DARK TOURIST.

Auckland Theatre Company’s Associate Director Artistic & Literary Roy Ward, acclaimed for his recent production of MY NAME IS GARY COOPER, directs the production.

DESIGN FOR LIVING plays at The Maidment Theatre from Valentine day, Feb 14 until March 8. Bookings can be made at the Maidment Theatre 09 308 2383 or  

Design For Living By Noel Coward

Maidment Theatre, Feb 14 – Mar 8
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8.00pm

Matinee Saturday 1 March at 2.00pm
Sundays 4.00pm
Tickets: $25 – $54 (booking fees apply)

Gilda - Lisa Chappell
Otto - Richard Edge
Leo - Curtis Vowell
Ernest - Cameron Rhodes
Miss Hodge / Grace Torrence - Bronwyn Bradley
Mr Birbeck / Henry Carver - Andrew Ford
Helen Carver - Liesha Ward Knox

Set Design - Robin Rawstorne
Lighting Design - Brad Gledhill
Costume Design - Elizabeth Whiting
Sound Design - Eden Mulholland

Production Manager Mark Gosling
Technical Manager Ben Hambling
Senior Stage Manager Aileen Robertson
Stage Manager Nicola Blackman
Operator Matt Lamb
Properties Master Bec Ehlers
Paintings Serena Buonaguidi-haynes  
Set Construction 2CONSTRUCT
Costume Construction Vicki Slow 

Superb production of facile play

Review by Sian Robertson 18th Feb 2008

Design For Living is a comedy of colourful, witty banter, if somewhat lacking in substance. If you’re a fan of Noel Coward, though, it’s one of his most popular plays and you’ll probably love this production.

Gilda is an interior designer. She lives with Otto, a painter, in Paris – that is until she sleeps with their mutual dear friend Leo, a playwright, and shacks up with him instead. Gilda and Leo don’t see Otto for a few years till he shows up at their London flat one day when Leo happens to be away. The rest of the story unfolds rather predictably.

The dialogue is as sparkling and guzzle-able as the champagne cocktails swilled by these self-centred debutantes. However, it’s clever at the expense of plot. Otto, Gilda and Leo are all reasonably successful, bored artists, toying eloquently with ideas about life and how best to live it, yet for all the philosophising and self-examination there’s no real development. The play does touch on ideas of love, social responsibility and evolution, but never gets its hands dirty. Even the subject of art doesn’t get much airtime.

According to the media release, Design For Living "feels like it was written yesterday" though Coward’s "fairly outrageous ideas and characters" of the 1930s are by today’s standards fairly unremarkable.

Lisa Chappell as Gilda, the centre of this whirlwind of lovers’ quarrels, egotistical banter and infidelity, treads a fine line between melodrama and real passion, with a healthy dash of self-deprecation to counteract the histrionics. Some of the funniest scenes are those between the wanton Gilda and her middle-aged confidante, Ernest (Cameron Rhodes), an art dealer whose sense of propriety and integrity bring him perpetual discomfort whenever he’s around Gilda, of whom he is nevertheless very fond. Ernest’s lone voice of integrity and, well, earnestness, is as extreme a caricature as the others, though, and he’s not any happier for his moral superiority.

The two male leads, played by Richard Edge and Curtis Vowell, are an entertaining pair well – two quite similar characters who spark off each other but never seem able to stand in the other’s shoes, until they end up commiserating and drowning their sorrows in a hilariously daft scene of drunken abandon. In the end though, I found it hard to care about any of them.  

According to Leo: "We all love each other … far too much, and we’ve made a bloody mess of it!" In fact, no one in this play loves anyone but themselves. The main thing that makes these characters unappealing is not their utter disregard for social convention and for each other, nor is it their frivolous banter. Otto announces: "There’s no point stamping about saying how degrading it all is … the only thing left is to enjoy it thoroughly…" The problem is, instead of savouring the nectar of their egocentric lives, they spend their time dissecting a vague sense of dissatisfaction and complaining about how there’s "something missing." I can’t help but agree.

The scenes take place in three rooms: an artist’s studio in Paris, a London flat, and a deco Manhattan apartment, requiring the set to reflect not only the three cities, but also the transition from hedonistic disarray to a sense of stifled creativity.

No detail is overlooked, from the sumptuous costumes to the seamless scene changes – the lights dim and everyone’s still in character, silently redecorating, carrying in the morning coffee or simply scattering newspaper sections in the search for a favourable review.

Although Design For Living is clever, downright hilarious at times and elegantly structured, two and a half hours is a bit long for such a low-fat comedy. A parallel can be drawn between the play itself and one of the characters’ apt evaluation of Gilda’s newly designed Manhattan apartment: "artistically too careful but professionally superb." There’s no shortage of talent. A superbly acted, beautifully designed production redeems what is otherwise a facile play.

By the final curtain call I couldn’t help admitting that at least the actors had shared something of themselves, even if the characters hadn’t!


Paul McLaughlin February 19th, 2008

Can I extend a warm, overdue welcome back to the stage to Richard Edge!

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Yesterday’s decadence, today’s brilliance

Review by Shannon Huse 18th Feb 2008

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. [More]


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