REVIEW: SUDS' 'Design for Living' - Designed to cross your legs and giggle flirtatiously to.
Eugene Lynch has decided to deliver us a play by noted theatre extraordinaire Noel Coward - a well-vaunted modern playwright who always had more than a sly wink of queerness involved in his plays. With the show being 85 years old, does it hold any relevance - and more importantly - interest, to a modern audience?
Well, the answer is both yes, and no. What is to be sure is that every audience member had a great time in the theatre. Laughs were flying fast at the quick wit and banter thrown around - quick wit being Coward's raison d'être some might argue - while each of the leads, Caitlin Williams as Gilda, Oliver Ayres as Otto and Max Peacock as Leo, chimed off each other exuberantly. The chemistry between the leads was equally gorgeous to watch; I could have watched them all night. Wests’ Gilda was indecisive but firm and I hope to see her in the Cellar many more times. Ayres’ Otto was emotional and silly, and Peacocks’ Leo was sly and sassy. Each beat was on point and the pace was never an issue. The sexual chemistry between was consistently palpable; if you didn’t leave the theatre without a crush on a least one of them I don’t know which play you were in.
The interactions between them, almost exclusively lengthy duologues, began to tire after a while but by the time Act Three began, things piped up. Joey Watsons’ turn as Henry Carver, the suffering husband of Daniella Pilla’s Helen Carver caused great joy, and every reaction of Pilla’s face to her husband’s frustration caused the audience to peal with laughter. It was a fabulous comedic performance by the two and they left with a well-deserved crash of applause.
It’s a shame the set couldn’t match the action with basic set pieces and a broken phone prop. The AV clips that played in each scene break were a small but beautiful addition, and helped set the scene efficiently - It’s just a shame it was marred by the inelegant set, which could have easily been avoided had Lynch gone with basic blacks or whites, assuming there was a budgetary complication. Despite the lacklustre set - which ultimately was more than made up for by the superb acting - I’m glad to see the SUDS tradition of copious amount of fake alcohol being consumed on stage returning.
This is an old play that was written in a different time. Don’t be mistaken, the exploration of a polyamory in the 30s is almost shockingly brazen, but the 3 main characters are selfish and vain and at the end of the day they are not very likeable people. Lovable from a distance but not sympathetic, and not people you would want to befriend. They preen and guffaw and wallow, and it’s all just so self-indulgent it resembles a parody, but it isn’t. And that is perhaps what gives me hesitation - Lynch doesn’t seem to have taken this into any consideration. To give a straight depiction of an 85-year-old play feels, in all honesty, hollow. Perhaps more work could have been given to poor misused Ernest, perhaps somehow the characters could have had some kind of retribution in the eyes of the viewer. It seems like a critique of rampant self-indulgence could have been made but was completely overlooked. I had a fabulous gay old time in the Cellar but I also didn’t feel good rooting for these characters. Fun, oh so terribly fun, but as Leo Mercure himself put it, “thin”.
These are philosophical complaints of course. This is still a great show, and everyone involved should be proud of it. Lynch has put together some fabulous actors with some fabulous dialogue and created a fabulous night that will set you back only a few dollars. If you are a fan of gay old times I imagine you will have a fabulous time too.
SUDS' Design for Living is currently being shown at the Cellar Theatre until the 8th of October. Tickets are still available via Trybooking.