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Theatre Review: Death By Design

This reviewer has often said that the Tea Tree Players know their audience and give them what they want. But with Rob Urbinati’s Death By Design, the company is definitely stretching their audience’s boundaries.

Death By Design

Presented by Tea Tree Players. Reviewed 9 April 2015.

This reviewer has often said that the Tea Tree Players know their audience and give them what they want. But with Rob Urbinati’s Death By Design, the company is definitely stretching their audience’s boundaries. This is not a bad thing, as long as their regulars are aware that this is NOT just another comedy mystery.

Death By Design is a clever satire on the social mores and class structure of 1930s Britain. With its insights into the Arts and politics, the play also takes jabs at today’s situation. On several occasions it also delves very close to becoming absurdist.

On a set beautifully realised by designer Damon Hill, the storyline of uninvited guests, each harbouring deep dark secrets, to a country manor for the weekend, is not only a homage to Agatha Christie but is peppered with allusion after allusion to Noel Coward; his life and his work. Even the play’s title is a re-working of Coward’s Design For Living.

With so many references and cleverness abounding, this is the sort of script that needs to be pulled apart and closely examined by both the director and actors before full on rehearsals start. This reviewer is not convinced that this happened. In trying to emulate Coward, Mike Phillips direction comes across at times as ponderous and stilted. Rather than being one with the wordy dialogue, some of the actors seem uncomfortable with it and with what Phillips is asking them to do.

However, this production sparkles and sizzles whenever Lewis Baker as chauffeur Jack, and Heather Riley as maid (and impromptu detective) Bridgit appear. Their opening scene together is just delightful – if only the rest of the play could match the energy levels set by these two. As ‘modern’ artiste Victoria, Emma O’Connell-Doherty is hilarious in her extravagance and interpretive dance (especially with Mark Bone and Debby Kulikovsky), but needs to work on her drunk routine.

Kulikovsky does well as the temperamental leading lady; Bone makes a nicely priggish politician; whilst Kacy Ratta shines as down-trodden Alice. Michael Terwel looks the part of playwright Edward, but lacks the Coward phrasing and poise. As socialist Eric, Richard Lawton is too well spoken and nowhere near fiery enough.

It’s heartening to see Tea Tree Players attempting something a little different, but this production has a few design flaws.

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Your Twitter: @briangods

Venue: Tea Tree Players Theatre   Tilley Recreation Park, cnr Yatala Vale & Hancock Roads, Surrey Downs
Season: 8 – 18 April 2015
Duration: 2 hours including interval
Tickets: $13.00 – $15.00
Bookings: Booking office open 10.00am to 1.00pm every Tuesday and Thursday, or leave a message at the Theatre on 82895266, or online atwww.teatreeplayers.com

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