LOVE FOR LOVE
The Swan theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th November, 2015
The plot of William Congreve’s comedy of 1694 is almost incidental in this exuberant, vibrant new production, directed by Selina Cadell. What takes precedence is the presentation. The show revels in its own theatricality from start to finish. What, in Brecht, would work to alienate us, here engages us. The very artificiality of it all infuses the ‘world’ of the play. It’s a right old giggle.
Tom Turner’s Valentine, the romantic lead, is languidly camp, until his ‘mad’ scenes when he is manically camp. There is an assurance here in the comic playing. In fact, the entire company play their parts like virtuoso performers: the timing, the reactions, the archness of it all, operate like well-oiled clockwork animating an intricate machine whose sole purpose is to delight. Carl Prekopp makes an energetic Jeremy, Valentine’s servant, Robert Cavanah is an urbane Scandal, while Jonathan Broadbent’s Tattle is a flamboyant, pouting fop. There is no one in this play who is not funny. Nicholas Le Prevost as Valentine’s unreasonable father Sir Sampson is marvellously embittered. Daniel Easton’s bumptious Ben, Valentine’s sailor brother, is a hoot (There is some spirited choreography of a sailors’ hornpipe by Stuart Sweeting.) As Congreve’s play is influenced by stock character types, so Selina Cadell’s production is informed by the workings and business of the Commedia dell’Arte.
As Angelica, Justine Mitchell displays some excellent melodramatic posturing, which she punctures in her asides – the audience, especially the front rows, is very much included, as prop holders, costume minders, and butts of pointed remarks. Jenny Rainsford’s Miss Prue is broadly played, in contrast to Angelica’s cultured poise. Congreve provides a wealth of funny roles for women. Hermione Gulliford plays the scheming Mrs Foresight to the hilt. It is one of those pieces where we deplore the characters while revelling in their transgressions and admiring the hell out of the actors.
An underused Michael Fenton-Stevens bears the brunt of the satirical jibes against the legal profession, while Michael Thomas’s superstitious Foresight represents an attack on those credulous enough to give credence to astrology. We can still recognise these targets from society today.
Rosalind Ebbutt’s vivacious costumes and Tom Piper’s toy theatre set convey the period and add considerably to the fun. There is a consort of musicians in a corner, underscoring the silliness, and sound effects and props contribute running jokes. It all makes for relentless fun – so much so that by the end, when all the plots have been resolved, we are not touched by the denouement. There is so much laughter here there is no room for sentiment and that is perhaps this production’s only shortcoming, yet there is a moment of stunning beauty thanks to the countertenor singing of Jonathan Christie.
I have a lot of love for Love For Love.