Wesley Enoch has Designs on you!
I had a moment part way through Queensland Theatre Company’s (QTC) final production for the year; I stepped outside myself and looked at the laughing audience and thought: this is what people mean when they talk of the brilliance of Broadway; this is what it is to see the wonder of the West End; this is rapture and every person around me glowed with it.
Noel Cowards Design for Living has just finished its season at the QPAC Playhouse and shone brightly on the Brisbane Theatre scene. From the moment I set eyes on the stunning art deco set I was in love; in love with the wildly naughty wit of Noel Coward, in love with the gorgeous style of Director Wesley Enoch, and in love with the incredible talents of Jason Klarwein, Tama Matheson, Kellie Lazarus, Trevor Stuart and their supporting cast.
The first hint of the brilliance to come was the enchanting set that paid homage to some of the best motifs of art deco architecture – the frame around the proscenium arch was just awesome. I wondered right then what it had been like to see realist theatre for the first time; it must have been a gas!
There were three sets, one for each act; two intervals in between made the three hours a pleasure rather than an endurance. First there was a little Paris studio inhabited by bohemian Gilda and her artist lover Otto live happily until the arrival of Leo. Then there was the fancy English apartment where well-to-dos Gilda and Leo play house until a reminiscent Otto (with nothing to lose) turns up at the door whilst Leo is conveniently out of town. Finally we were presented with a flash New York apartment where Gilda and Ernest attempt marriage-in-exile and the trio (Gilda, Otto and Leo) are reunited and choose their debauched ménage-et-trois over the ‘respectable’ life – they all desire each-other and that is that. At interval the sets retract into back stage and lush red velvet curtains fall closed as they would have done in Coward’s time.
Coward’s impeccable writing is a dream. Not a misplaced word; punch line after punch line and a razor sharp wit. Casting must have been a challenge with the need to seek out actors who were able to range from self-centred and egotistical to fun-spirited and likeable, thereby making the outrageous tryst believable. . Klarwein seems to exist rather than act his role and with the mischievous Matheson and easily-led Lazarus to bounce off – the three provide a lively comedic yet pathetic and exciting mess of a peer group (sound familiar). Design for Living hints at the origins of the modern sitcom, an antique episode of Friends if you will – It’s very easy to watch and it’s surprisingly edgy even seventy-odd years after it first premiered.
Fez Faanana’s entrance as the English apartment maid is a show-stealer worth a special mention and I thought it was going to be the highlight of the night – that is until Klarwein and Matheson had the audience keeling over with their drunken duo performance (imagine those cartoon chipmunks wildly wasted and over affectionate). This raving spectacle closed off act two and the audience rushed from the theatre gasping for breath and abused by laughter to the foyer – time enough for a stiff drink before the unleashing of act three! QTC’s Design for Living is easily the best night out of the year. Richard Roberts’ costume and production design provide some serious eye-candy for fans of the period and judging by the many frocked-up opening-night patrons, they are definitely crowds of Deco-philes in Brisbane. Go and see it!